• Elise Bakketun

Both Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto tell stories in which women without power are raped by boozy and powerful men (a king, a duke), then feel ashamed and kill themselves (the women, not the men; the men get away with it).

Both are also based on historical events. Lucretia's rape, around 500 BC by Tarquinius, the Etruscan king's son, inspired Romans to revolt and create the Roman Empire. Victor Hugo's play Le Roi S'amuse, which inspired Rigoletto, was inspired by stories of the sexually violent exploits of 16th-century King Francis I of France. Both operas were also subversively political when they premiered. Verdi's opened in 1851 when Italy was being run by Austria, Britten's in 1946 when England was just beginning to get over being bombed by Germany. They both use rape as a metaphor. But rape is not a metaphor; it's a horrible thing experienced by (mostly) women. Do not diminish it like that. Don't use it to talk about something else. If you're going to talk about it, then talk about it.

Vespertine Opera's fifth production, a riveting Rape of Lucretia, neither shies away from nor creepily eroticizes the violence of the rape of at the center of the story. Under the astute direction of Dan Wallace Miller, José Rubio both vocally and physically portrays the horrible fracture of self that turns Tarquinius into a man who'll rape: His voice strains when it ought to, and his face gets hard then rubbery. Julia Benzinger's Lucretia captures the confusion, loathing, and loathing of self—her body juddering between hesitance and urgency—that occurs when a victim decides she is partly to blame and then becomes ashamed and suicidal.

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