Small but perfectly formed

The Rape of Lucretia, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 11

The Rape of Lucretia was Britten’s first chamber opera, premiered at Glyndebourne in 1946 with Kathleen Ferrier in the title role.Despite the success of Peter Grimes at Sadlers Wells the previous year, Tensions within that company turned Britten away from Grand Opera towards works on a much smaller scale as a vehicle for further stagings of English opera. The forces involved in Lucretia are very small: just eight singers and a small instrumental ensemble.

As theatre, Lucretia has attracted criticism, much of it in connection with Ronald Duncan’s libretto. Saturday’s concert performance, the first of two at the Festival, and peerlessly performed by a splendid company, revealed the true magic of Britten’s score.

With the instrumental ensemble occupying centre stage, the six principals on a raised stage at the rear, and the male and female chorus at the front on either side of the platform, the balance was perfect. As one might expect, both characterisation and diction from the chorus, Ian Bostridge and Susan Gritton, were impeccable, Angelika Kirchschlager, making her Aldeburgh debut, was a splendid Lucretia, and among the other distinguished performers, special mention must be made of Hilary Summers’ Bianca and Claire Booths’ Lucia.

The instrumental playing was superb, conductor Oliver Knussen coaxing some marvellous sounds from his players and holding all together with minimal gesture.

Frank Cliff