Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The Rake’s Progress review – a journey from love to madness

A devil of a show from The Grange Festival.

The Rake's Progress

Adam Temple-Smith (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Stravinsky described himself as ‘Mozart’s continuer’, although at times he seems like Mozart’s subverter, toying with ears accustomed to the classical; at one moment you catch strains of Monteverdi, at another you could swear that you hear Fiordiligi or those woodwinds which introduce the Ferrarese sisters. One or twice the stage ensemble might make you imagine you are about to hear Beethoven’s ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’ whilst Stravinsky himself regarded Baba’s music as close to Broadway. However, all the recollections and references within the work are less mere pastiche, more homage, in the same way as T.S. Eliot used the works of Dante and Shakespeare in The Waste Land.

With its arias recalling not only Mozart but 19th century bel canto, its episodic style and questionably attractive male characters and its requirement for a large and versatile chorus, The Rake’s Progress is a lot for an opera company to take on, but The Grange Festival has done it proud with Antony McDonald’s direction and design, aided by Peter Mumford’s brilliant lighting, giving density to the graveyard scene and ideal hollowness to the asylum. The influence of Hogarth’s series of depictions of the life of Tom Rakewell is evident in the way in which the scenes are separated by a flowing curtain, and the debauchery of 18th century London is made abundantly clear.

“…The Rake’s Progress is a lot for an opera company to take on, but The Grange Festival has done it proud…”

The Rake's Progress

Michael Mofidian & Adam Temple-Smith (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Michael Mofidian was a new name to us, but it’s certain that it will be one we shall often hear in future. He was an outstanding Nick Shadow, recalling Samuel Ramey in his sardonic communication with the audience, and revelling in his daemonic music. Adam Temple-Smith was a sympathetic Tom, highlighting the character’s essential weakness and singing with clarity and confidence. Rosie Aldridge was the audience’s favourite as Baba the Turk, her rich mezzo surmounting all the challenges of the part and reminding us that Baba is not only generous towards Anne but represents the independence of the performer.

It’s difficult for a soprano to present Anne Trulove as anything other than a bit priggish, although Stravinsky writes some of his most glorious music for her. Alexandra Oomens avoided excessive sweetness, and there were times when she might have been singing Despina. Her father was splendidly played by Darren Jeffery, and John Graham-Hall was a suitably creepy Sellem. Catherine Wyn-Rogers gave a characteristically strong performance as Mother Goose, and Armand Rabot was luxury casting in the role of the Keeper of the Madhouse.

The Grange Festival Chorus have been one of the great strengths of this year’s festival, and this production was their crowning glory. Exactingly trained by William Vann, they excelled whether presenting bickering, snippy attendees at an auction or deranged inmates of the asylum. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra played superbly under Tom Primrose, bringing out all the contrasting grandeur and tawdriness of the piece

“Can a composer reuse the past and at the same time move in a forward direction?” Stravinsky gives his definite answer to his question with The Rake’s Progress, and this production succeeds in reminding us of its central place in the repertoire.

• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.

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