The Rape of Lucretia

19 October - 6 December 2013
Tour 2013

A new production for Tour 2013 

Given its first ever performance at Glyndebourne in 1946, Benjamin Britten created this opera with the poet Ronald Duncan, who wrote about their collaboration: ‘Britten and I worked at the same desk. We first discussed the shape of the whole drama and then spent several days working over this in order to reduce it to its essential simplicity. We kept our work fluid – even after it had gone to the printer and engraver, much to their dismay.’

The result of this close collaboration is an extraordinary and tightly focussed treatment of a legend which has acquired numerous layers in painting, poetry and drama. Lucretia is raped by the tyrant Tarquinius Superbus, ruler of Rome, and elects to kill herself rather than live with the shame. The action of the opera is commented on throughout by a Male and Female Chorus who occupy another dimension, at times narrating the story and at times voicing the thoughts of the different characters.

The central role of Lucretia is one which engages the talents of a singing actress to the utmost and one with which director Fiona Shaw will empathise keenly, drawing on her own experiences as both a performer and a director.

It was in describing this work that Britten coined the term ‘chamber opera’, creating a work of distilled power and refinement with a cast of eight and an orchestra of 12 players and piano.

A recording of this production will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 28 December 2013.

FREE supporting extras before the performance

This special evening is accompanied by a pre-performance concert at 5.00pm (approximately 40 minutes long) curated by Luke Styles, Glyndebourne's Young Composer in Residence. Featuring Ensemble Amorpha.

At 6.15pm, Director Fiona Shaw will give a pre-performance talk in the auditorium (approximately 30 minutes long).

"This is opera at its most nakedly powerful.”
Rated 5* by The Daily Telegraph

“The singers are close to ideal, every one of's an A-list ensemble of exceptional quality"
Rated 5* by What's on Stage 

“Nicholas Collon and his musicians bring out all the magic of this lovely work's translucent orchestration.”
Rated 5* by The Independent

“…the performances are all terrific.”
Rated 4* by the Guardian

"It is a remarkable piece of work.”
Reviewed by Edward Seckerson

Listen to the Rape of Lucretia podcast:

Download this episode (right click and save)

Sung in English with supertitles

Supported by Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson

Peformed by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.

Act I

The Male Chorus and Female Chorus tell us how the ancient Etruscans seized Rome and how the Etruscan King’s son, the warrior Tarquinius Sextus, ‘treats the proud city as if it were his whore’.

At an army camp outside the city, the generals Collatinus, Junius and Tarquinius discuss how, the previous night, six generals had ridden back to Rome only to find their wives unfaithful – except for Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus. The cuckolded Junius, jealous of Lucretia’s fidelity, mocks and argues with the single Tarquinius. Junius insists that all women are whores by nature, but the drunken Tarquinius declares that Lucretia is not. ‘I’ll prove her chaste,’ he says, and leaves for Rome.

In an interlude, the Male Chorus describes Tarquinius’s ride to Rome.

That evening, at Lucretia’s house in Rome, she sews while her servants Bianca and Lucia are spinning. Lucretia thinks she hears a knock at the gate and hopes it may be her husband Collatinus, but she finds no one there. ‘How cruel men are to teach us love,’ she says.

While the three women retire for the night, the Male Chorus and Female Chorus describe the arrival of Tarquinius in Rome and his violent knock on Lucretia’s door. Claiming that his horse is lame, he asks Lucretia for wine and lodging. She shows him to a room for the night.

Act II

The Male Chorus and Female Chorus describe the Etruscan domination of Rome.

Lucretia is asleep in her bed when Tarquinius approaches. He kisses her and she, dreaming of Collatinus, draws him closer. But when Lucretia wakes and realises it is Tarquinius, she repulses him. They struggle. Tarquinius overcomes Lucretia.

In an interlude, the Male Chorus and Female Chorus interpret the events of the night from their devout Christian viewpoint.

The next morning, Lucia and Bianca arrange flowers. Bianca says she heard Tarquinius gallop away before dawn. Lucretia enters and asks Lucia to send for Collatinus, but Bianca tries to stop the messenger. Collatinus arrives with Junius. Lucretia tells Collatinus what happened. He insists it will not change their marriage, but Lucretia knows differently.


In an epilogue, the Male Chorus and Female Chorus ask, ‘Is it all?’ They conclude that Jesus Christ is all.

Creative team

Conductor Nicholas Collon / Jack Ridley (15 Nov)
Director Fiona Shaw
Set Designer Michael Levine
Costume Designer Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting Designer Paul Anderson

The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra


Male Chorus Allan Clayton / Andrew Dickinson (15, 22 Nov)
Female Chorus Kate Valentine
Collatinus David Soar
Junius Oliver Dunn
Tarquinius Duncan Rock
Lucretia Claudia Huckle
Bianca Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Lucia Ellie Laugharne

The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Tour 2013, Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

"This is opera at its most nakedly powerful.”
Rated 5* by The Daily Telegraph

“The singers are close to ideal, every one of's an A-list ensemble of exceptional quality"
Rated 5* by What's on Stage 

“Nicholas Collon and his musicians bring out all the magic of this lovely work's translucent orchestration.”
Rated 5* by The Independent

"...searingly beautiful"
Rated 5* by the Observer

“…a production that, by refusing to muddy the moral waters, makes more sense of this strange opera than any I have known.”
Rated 4* by the Financial Times 

“…the performances are all terrific.”
Rated 4* by the Guardian

“…this new production of The Rape of Lucretia, the first at Glyndebourne since Britten’s chamber opera had its premiere there in 1946, is quite the darkest — and possibly the most truthful — you’re likely to see in some time.”
Rated 4* by the Times

“This may be a deeply unsettling evening but it’s a richly rewarding one too.”
Reviewed by The Stage

"It is a remarkable piece of work.”
Reviewed by Edward Seckerson

“Completely engaging, wholly accessible, immensely enjoyable – this was opera that would leave even novices asking for more.”
Reviewed by the Brighton Argus


Dear Catherine - Good news! As this is the last chance to see The Rape of Lucretia on the 28th of November we have opened up the auditorium to anyone wishing to buy a ticket - age restriction no longer applies! We have also added a FREE performance talk by Director, Fiona Shaw which will take place at approximately 6.15pm for 30 minutes in the auditorium beforehand. We do hope you can join us and look forward to seeing you there. The team at Glyndebourne.

All those empty seats for Lucretia at the end of November and I'm 20 years too old to buy a ticket!!! I saw this opera 3 times in October and am desperate to see it yet again, bringing some more of my 'old' friends. When, when, when are the tickets going to be made available to those of us over 30?! Surely I'm too young to experience ageism?! :-(

A completely brilliant, gripping performance, with marvellous singing and playing. A fantastic evening - thank you Glyndebourne!.

There are those rare nights at the opera when you realise you never want to see a work again except in this production because it is as near to perfect as it gets.

I had such a night with this Lucretia which is so packed with insight and symbolic detail I wanted to see it repeated there and then. Thank you to Fiona Shaw for your inspired directing and to Glyndebourne for making this possible on tour.

Great production with excellent cast. Lovely to hear a rarely heard opera done so superbly.

Tremendous production, beautifully sung. Many thanks.

An interesting staging. Fine musically & dramatically.

There is nothing second best about this touring production. For me it was as intense and powerful as Glyndebourne's summer production of Billy Budd a couple of years ago.
This Rape of Lucretia was busier than I was expecting, but in a good way. It made the story more human, more modern perhaps, with less un-said.
I do hope Glyndebourne continue working through the serious Britten operas

A surprisingly emotional and moving performance. A view of B Britten I was not expecting. the staging and music was exceptionally appreciated

When going through my books, trying to 'downsize' to a charity shop, 2 folded, faded, stapled A4 pages fell out. "Mr and Mrs John Mortimer request the pleasure of the company of Mr Benjamin Britten at a "Glyndebourne Night" on Wednesday the 3rd August 1949 at 7.30pm at Bank House, Ootacamund. Inside was the cast list and details of the opera. He often gave 'concerts' of recordings recently purchased in India. Across the top on the front page was written "I only wish I could have accepted this kind invitation in person. With best wishes, Benjamin Britten.

Having recently put in my request for Touring tickets for this opera which I had never seen, and being a Britten fan, this was an amazing find, especially since my father had never mentioned this and I had never seen The Rape of Lucretia, so I looked forward to it with even greater anticipation. Certainly no disappointment, it left me exhausted, wanting to see it again, but, like Billy Budd in the summer, knowing I would need a 'gap' to deal with the emotions it provoked. I can only say, more of these wonderful, beautifully interpreted performances from the Touring opera, please. Thank you Glyndebourne.

I am a long standing fan of Benjamin Britten, but I did NOT like The Rape of Lucretia. The dialogue seemed to have little to do with normal conversation, apart from the soldiers' banter at the beginning and the production made little sense.

I won't see The Rape of Lucretia again and I think there are several reasons why it is hardly ever performed. I can't imagine that many in the audience would recommend this opera to a friend. I certainly wouldn't.

As always the singers and the orchestra were outstanding.

A wonderful production - all-engrossing. Great set design - loved the archeological dig and it was so clever the way the romans occupied the rooms whereas the two narrators perched on the walls ( the ghosts of past inhabitants vs. the archeologists). The voices were so well matched and the male vocals so well balanced. It was a real privilege to have heard Fiona talk about the production on the Tour Evening and she was so happy to chat to us after the production last week!

Saw it twice and it got better each time AND I thought it was brilliant first time round. Hope it is revived in the near future. It joins all your first class Britten productions. All you have to do now is produce Gloriana to show The Royal Opera House how it should be done

Fabulous cast! Some background reading on the story would help before seeing the performance although I did thoroughly enjoy it.

Spellbinding. The music and singing were exceptional; the production a masterful use of simple elements. My wife and I rank it as one of the best productions we have experienced at Glyndebourne over the past 45 years

A wonderful opportunity of seeing this rarely performed, powerful work - superbly sung and played/conducted, imaginatively yet simply staged. My only caveat is that the libretto comes across as rather dated: the references to Christianity, especially, seem to be dragged in kicking and screaming, where they are not necessary!
All three of this year's Glyndebourne touring productions are just marvellous in all respects - even better than usual!!!!

This stunning and highly intelligent production showed Glyndebourne at its scintillating best. I hope it will soon be part of the main programme at Glyndebourne.

Fabulous. I was mesmerised, both by the music and the set. The darkness of the subject matter was reflected in the visual effects. This was my first visit to Glyndebourne and I was very impressed!

We spent the day at Glyndebourne attending the study day before the performance. Without doubt this was one of the best performances we have seen at Glyndebourne, which was enhanced by the excellent lectures that formed the study day. There was no performance which was anything but excellent, whether the singers on stage or the orchestra, all brought together by a wonderful production.

The Christian ethic grafted on to this Roman tragedy diminishes the potential impact of this opera. It would have been more effective to have treated the chorus as in Greek tragedy. Britten's brilliant music almost rescues this flawed libretto.

Although this opera is very much a product of the 1940s, this wonderful production by Fiona Shaw is thoroughly engrossing and theatrical. Wonderful performances by everyone. Well worth seeing again.

What an end to our 2013 visits to Glyndeboure. Outstanding production - fitting in the special Britten year. A must for all Britten fans.

This production could not have been done better. Cast, orchestra, staging - all excellent. Britten builds so many layers into his characters, especially Lucretia, portrayed through the Lucretia role and also through the Female Chorus. This production exposed every layer.

A powerful production with magnificent singing and playing. Reputedly one of Britten's least popular pieces, but leaving to one side the appalling libretto with its absurd religiosity, a dramatically and musically rich opera. All the singers, from Allan Clayton to Ellie Laugharne, were extraordinarily good.wree

Wonderful production. I have never been a great fan of Britten but this performance was made by his music, especially in the second half. Singing and set fabulous. A lovely evening.

Just completed a week of visits to Glyndebourne's tour performances. Took three grandchildren to Hansel and Gretel, a great success. Took two close friends to L'Elisir ; great fun, great production, great singing and great playing. Then Rape of Lucretia..truly wonderful. Fiona Shaw brings great insight and theatricality to an excellent cast. The playing is hauntingly beautiful. The harrowing story is presented without gratuitous violence and is all the more effective for that. Congratulations all round! For anyone who has not seen this Britten opera book NOW!

Have in the past been critical of pre-performance talks etc. This one was excellent, hitting just the right note.
Stunned by the opera. Very fine both in terms of performance and prodution

This is simply stunning, and is the clearest example of why Glyndebourne constantly resets the standard for opera - ensemble and complete commitment to the work in hand. GTO is always a treat, offering as it does the opportunity to hear the rising stars of the next generation; it is really hard to imagine this production better cast.

Hello Glyndebourne Team!
We ate in the refurbished Middle and Nether Wallop restaurant before the performance, and it was superb.
The surroundings are delightful, the way it is all organised is so brilliant and we loved the personalised printed menu.
The food and wine were excellent, and the waitress was friendly and efficient.
We found The Rape absolutely gripping - glorious singing, wonderful orchestra, creative staging, and beautifully lit throughout. What a treat!

A gruelling, shattering and finally cathartic evening. Utterly superb in every way.

wow -Food for the soul every aspect of this prodcution works in perfect balance its Glyndebourne firing on all cylinders - an utterly outstanding evening of the finest quality.

Just been to see this opera for the 3rd time this week! So hope the Under 30s don't buy all the November tickets. Can't wait to see it again! Pretty melodies - no. Mesmerising music depicting a tragedy still relived around the world all to frequently - yes. An opera to immerse yourself in completely. Oops, I guess I might be encouraging the Under 30s to see it. Please leave a few standing tickets for me and my friends ;-)

Absolutely brilliant. Going to see it for the third time on Friday!

The story as told by Britten and his librettist is multi-layered: a story about a story about a story, as two people from modern times use the core story of Christianity as a template with which to interpret and understand the story of Tarquin and Lucretia from ancient Rome. In Fiona Shaw’s remarkable production there is a further story: the two people from modern times are not only representatives of the audience but also have an ambiguous sexual relationship with each other, and are excavating the stories of Christ and of Lucretia to understand and manage the dynamics that operate between themselves.

The final visual image on stage, showing both Christ’s end and Lucretia’s, is of dereliction – ‘why hast thou forsaken me?’ But the final message of the production as a whole is that tragedy allied with song is not, finally, tragedy at all, but triumph. Aggression, domination and cruelty exist, most certainly, and in relationships and love affairs between individuals as well as in political and military affairs involving nations and large groups. But also, say Britten and Shaw, and say the wonderful team with whom they have worked on this production at Glyndebourne, there is song. It is song not tragedy that is the production’s final message.

I know I am not alone in feeling uncomfortable with the Christian epilogue which Britten added. However Britten was not only a Purcell admirer. He was also a renowned performer of the music of Gottlieb Mozart. Another tagged on epilogue which makes me cringe is the one at the end of Don Giovanni. Bearing in mind the Don and Tarquin could be brothers is there some sort of tribute to Mozart going on here? Tuesday's performance again riveting. Looking forward to Friday!

There are a lot of words in this opera so some homework on the story and its context comes in useful. The study day was exactly what was needed and by common consent from the feedback I heard this was one of the best of its kind. I shall also be at the talk on Tuesday but I see that is now sold out. You may find a return. Although I am a Britten fan this was the first time I have seen the piece on stage. The music is hypnotic, surely something to with the repetitions. A worthy successor to Glyndebourne's previous Britten productions. So sad he never lived to see his own resurrection here.

Wonderful, gripping, theatrical and well-paced. This first performance was totally stunning. Have already booked to go again on tuesday.

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