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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I like The Rake's Progress very much and consider it one of
Stravinsky's- a composer I appreciate rather than love- best overall
works. As of now, the best production on DVD is still the 1975 one with
Lott, Goeke and Ramey. The 1995 Swedish film had some great things
about it, but some of the cuts(especially the epilogue) let things
down. I however didn't care very much for this production. This said
there are worse productions of any opera and Salzburg have done far
worse, like with 2001's Die Fledermaus, 2006's Ascania in Alba and
2006's Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail.
Getting the bad things out of the way, I found the production very ugly to look at. The sets are very sparse and have no life to them whatsoever. The lighting is dull, making scenes more lifeless than they already are. The costumes to me looked awful, almost like the singers walked onto stage directly from the street. The styles didn't fit with the story of the opera and some of the colour co-ordinations really don't go, Baba the Turk fares the worst. Only Anne's looked good and was flattering to Upshaw. The characters are nowhere near as interesting or likable, some of them even come across as distorted, Nick Shadow may be menacing but he is not subtle at all, coming across as a Daddy Warbuck-like Mafia boss while Tom is reminiscent of part Bohemian artist part John Travolta-like middle-aged rocker.
Even worse is the staging. I have nothing against innovative staging, but I do when it doesn't engage in any way and adds nothing to the music or story. That was the case with this production, the monkeys especially were incredibly annoying and were often there for no real reason. And sadly one performance doesn't work and that was Jerry Hadley. I do like Hadley, but he didn't move me or make me feel sympathy for him as Tom and made it all too obvious that the stage direction played against him. He can have a tendency to overact also, almost too hallucinogenic and undisciplined to be believable. His voice has also seen better days, his voice was not always beautiful but the forced, strained tone, constant speaking declamations and hectoring here really takes the cake.
On the positive side, on the most part the musical aspects are just outstanding. The orchestral playing is powerfully evocative, and makes the production more gripping, touching and light-hearted than it deserved to be. The conducting is full of authority as well. And Hadley aside, the performances are wonderful. I was especially impressed by Dawn Upshaw, her Anne is melancholic and cheeky and both her big solos especially Gently Little Boat are beautifully sung with a flexible, bright tone and shimmering beauty in basic sound. Monte Pederson is vocally superb and his Nick Shadow is very well-acted, doing much with what the director Peter Mussbach made him do, coming across as appropriately devilish if occasionally a little too camp.
Hilarious is the Baba the Turk of Jane Henschel. Her voice is of a rich contralto, with a remarkably good colouratura technique, and she is very nimble and light in movement for someone who is the opposite in physique. Linda Ormiston is a suitably light-hearted Mother Goose, Jonathan Best's Trulove is very firm and Barry Banks' Sellem is very oily. All in all, didn't care for it but it isn't that awful at the same time. 5/10 Bethany Cox
Superb singing and orchestral playing, but the production is the ego trip of the stage director and designer and ignores everything Stravinsky and Auden were trying to get across. A fine example of "Euro-trash." Tom Rakewell becomes a bohemian artist in search of his aesthetic (so we are told in the notes). Costume: paint-spattered jeans and Brando T-shirt. A wooden airplane on stage signifies his dream excursions. Ann Truelove appears in a shift or perhaps it is a slip. Baba the Turk wears a butterscotch leather jacket over a black T-shirt with a yellow happy face along with a mini-skirt. A group of monkeys come and go. Nick Shadow is sort of a Mafia hood. Father Truelove wears Levi's and acts the hick farmer. It's such a shame, since the singing and the playing are so fine. If you want to see and hear Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress as he and W. H. Auden intended it, find a copy of the 1975 production designed by David Hockney and conducted by Bernard Haitink with Felicity Lott, Samuel Ramey, Rosalind Elias and other outstanding singers. The production is designed with Hogarth's engravings (upon which the opera is based) in mind. I should add that I am not against innovative staging. Sarah Caldwell did an innovative Rake's Progress in Boston in the late 60s and it worked because she honored the text and the music.
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