Premiered in 1946 at Glyndebourne, The Rape of Lucretia was Britten’s second opera, coming after the unheralded stellar success of Peter Grimes. Perhaps in reaction to this, The Rape of Lucretia marks a radical change in approach and Britten’s decisive break with the grand opera tradition. A short work in only two acts with a small cast and an ensemble of only thirteen instrumentalists, it was the first ever chamber opera, a genre to which Britten and many others would return.
Despite its modest size, the opera packs a powerful emotional punch in dealing with its dark subject matter. It tells the story of the Roman noblewoman Lucretia who is raped by the tyrant Tarquinius Superbus, ruler of Rome, and elects to kill herself rather than live with the shame. It is a story with a rich history and many artistic interpretations. Britten’s compact libretto, developed by Ronald Duncan, is an adaptation of a play by André Obey, itself based on Shakespeare’s poem on the same subject.
The recording, made in 1993, is reissued as a part of the Richard Hickox Legacy Series, the renowned Britten conductor leading the City of London Sinfonia, the ensemble he founded in 1971. Hickox was praised for his ‘clear-sighted direction’ and there were also high marks for the ‘vivid, beautifully disciplined response from the City of London Sinfonia’ (Hi-Fi News). The recording includes Jean Rigby’s ‘beautifully sung and movingly felt performance’ (The Sunday Times) as Lucretia, and the supporting cast is excellent.