Review: The Rape of Lucretia

Irish Youth Opera has begun its mission with a slick, updated version of Britten’s opera

The Rape of Lucretia

Wexford Opera House


In a brief manifesto, the new Irish Youth Opera company notes how discussion of opera in Ireland traditionally dwells on what’s lacking – a national company, an opera house in the capital – while IYO “is starting with what we do have – an abundance of talented singers”.


Seven of the company's eight-member cast for Britten's 1946 chamber opera The Rape of Lucrecia are Irish, the eighth being Irish-based. They are not "youth", as in the amateurs of the Irish Youth Orchestra or Irish Youth Choir, but rather young professionals in the early stages of their careers, some of them already outside Ireland (where ultimately they all must go).

And they are talented. The singing in this production is pliant, fresh and emotionally responsive to text throughout. In the central pairing, there is only sweetness and affection, with no matronly distance, in mezzo Carolyn Dobbin's portrayal of the victim, Lucretia. Baritone Gyula Nagy brings a highly developed physical intensity to the awful predatory role of Tarquinius.

The important narrative-cum-commentary function that Britten assigned to parts he eventually labelled Male and Female Chorus is most engagingly performed with deceptive ease by tenor Ross Scanlon and soprano Jennifer Davis.

They deliver most of their lines from something akin to the set of a breakfast news TV programme, complete with warm-red central couch. This heightens the contemporary updating of IYO's slick-looking production by director Michael Barker-Caven, lighting designer Sinéad McKenna, and designer Joe Vanek, whose Roman soldiers are clad in black fatigues, black boots and black bullet-proof vests. They carry handguns instead of swords, resonant of current affairs.

Although he miscalculates the Wexford venue's acoustic and allows his tiny ensemble to obscure the text in nearly every moment of high drama, conductor Stephen Barlow elicits all the energy, emotion, darkness and human questioning of Britten's music.

At the Everyman, Cork Sept 9, O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin Sept 11-12, An Táin Arts Centre, Dundalk Sept 14