Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Reveals that "Rape of Lucretia" was Censored

Christopher Maltman (L) and Nathan Gunn (R) in Rape of Lucretia
Censorship in opera is not a 20th century phenomenon, as masters like Giuseppe Verdi saw some of their greatest operas altered by the moralists and political watchdogs of the day. Verdi ran afoul of both the religious and political entities of his time, perhaps most famously in Un Ballo in Maschera, with the offense being the assassination of a king.

Rigoletto would never have been produced had Verdi not changed the prostitute-loving King Francis I of Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse to the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto. Rather than the Duke being killed, Verdi ends up killing Gilda.

La Forza del Destino, Luisa Miller and La Traviata were all famously altered after the censors weighed in.

Michael Krzankowski in Seattle
It should come as no surprise that Benjamin Britten was also the victim of the censors. He not only dealt with issues like the injustices of war, but dealt with homosexuality and even pedophilia, topics that were taboo in England at the time. Don't forget that it wasn't much earlier that Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for "gross indecency" and for being a sodomite.

A new book on Benjamin Britten by Paul Kildea, a conductor and expert on the composer, has now revealed that his opera "The Rape of Lucretia" was altered by the censors. The most notable line was the changing of the following lines:

Male Chorus: “He takes her hand/And places it upon his unsheathed sword.”
Female Chorus: “Thus wounding her with an equal lust/A wound only his sword can heal”.
These lines were changed to the far less poetic:
“Tarquinius – 'Poised like a dart’/Lucretia – 'At the heart of woman’/Male Chorus – 'Man climbs towards his God’/ Female Chorus: 'Then falls to his lonely hell’.” 
Amazingly, Britten's "Peter Grimes," which deals with the mysterious disappearance of young boys at the hands of a sailor, made it past the censors. However, the censors did make this comment:
“It is all very wafty and nebulous and I don’t pretend I can make sense of the plot from the verses, but there is no offence in them or in the production. Perhaps Benjamin Britten’s music will carry it through.” 
You can read more at the the Telegraph. You can also check out our photo tribute to Rape of Lucretia, which has provided us with some of our favorite pictures over the years.

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