Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rake's Progress at Opera Australia, 2006 (Photo: Branco Gaica)
18 Apr 2006

The Rake's Progress at Opera Australia

In March the Glyndebourne Opera production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight played at the 2006 Adelaide Festival. Barely a week later a second Glyndebourne production presented by Opera Australia opened at the Sydney Opera House with further performances in Melbourne at the State Theatre.

This was the famous, and now even historic, production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. First staged in 1975, the year before Patrice Chereau's centenary production at Bayreuth of the Ring heralded the era of scandalous opera production, this quirky little treat has been greeted at its many revivals and debuts at other houses like a puppy on Christmas morning. Produced by John Cox with costumes and sets by the English artist David Hockney, The Rake’s Progress has notched up thirty years continuous service, making it one of the longest serving opera productions on the circuit.

As a producer Cox never courted controversy like his contemporaries David Poultney, David Freeman or Tim Albury. In fact commentators, like singer turned critic Tom Sutcliffe, even describe him as 'discreet'. As for Hockney, as it was for Stravinsky and his librettist W.H. Auden, it was a first foray into opera. Stravinsky had written operatically styled works before but the Rake was his first true and full length opera. Auden too had one libretto to his credit, for Benjamin Britten’s quasi-opera Paul Bunyan in 1941 (that few people ever heard again when Britten withdrew it after a week and forbade further performances until 1976).

“I suppose, if you’re asking me,” you’re wanting something a bit out of the ordinary.” was Hockney's reply when Cox approached him to design The Rake’s Progress. Despite only one previous theatre design Hockney turned out to be a natural. Being an opera lover, he absorbed himself with the libretto and music. Hockney’s preferred working method was to actually design directly to music, listening to it on his Walkman. Sadly increasing deafness has ended his designing this way.

The 'discreet' Cox was hoping that as “an artist established in his own right (Hockney) would come in and use the opera as an inspiration. Naturally the director is supreme arbiter of all questions about what is seen and done, but when you invite someone like David Hockney to team up with you, you know you will surrender much of your autonomy,” he admitted.

Auden’s text had been styled on 18th century libretti and Stravinsky had used 18th century musical forms. As the original idea had come to him after seeing the paintings of the same name by the artist William Hogarth, it was only logical that Hockney re-introduce the original visual inspiration. So he began a close study of Hogarth. Cox was enthusiastic about adopting Hogarth's engraving style. “Being a 20th century utilization of an 18th century technique, it coincided exactly with the sources of Stravinsky's own musical inspiration,” he said. “In a way, it was even more exact, for Stravinsky's harmonies have an acid-etched quality, yet the first idea for the opera came from the oil paintings of A Rake’s Progress. “Stravinsky’s music,” Hockney says, “was a pastiche of Mozart and my design was a pastiche of Hogarth.” Stravinsky, incidentally, conceded only reluctantly that his score was pastiche. “The Rake’s Progress,” he wrote, “seemed to have been created for journalistic debates concerning a) the historical accuracy of the approach and b) whether I am guilty of imitation and pastiche…of Mozart, as had been said.”

Cox and Hockney's finished product is as cohesive as Stravinsky's music. Stravinsky used motifs, quoting them throughout the score as references to other characters and events as well as developing them into new situations. In the same way Hockney also links major events. The brothel scene in act one and the final scene in Bedlam are closely related as places where the hero Tom Rakewell loses, firstly, his innocence and, lastly, his reason. Similarly the room in Tom's house which figures three times, is transformed each time by significant events in his downfall. The first time it is all elegance and orderliness dominated by pink, blue and green German printer's ink colours. In the second appearance it is dominated with the black and white cross hatched junk that his wife, Baba the Turk, brings with her. Finally, when he and Baba are bankrupt and their possessions are being auctioned, it is drained of colour save for Baba's, Anne's and the Auctioneer's costumes. Hockney indicating, as Cox recalls, “that as Tom's misfortunes increase, so colour departs.”

The only major criticism against the production were the ones leveled against it in 1975. Glyndebourne historian Spike Hugues recalled “the grotesque and evil side of the opera was missing ...(and)…the scene in Bedlam was a little bewildering. The composer and librettists wrote a scene that was closely based on the horror of Hogarth’s picture, and expected it to look like it…the chorus, dressed in black with a variety of white masks, occupied a kind of egg-box (or jury-box?) which stretched from wall to wall of the set. The figures popped up into view from time to time, sang and popped down again. It was all very symmetrical and clinical, and was, I think, all going on in Tom Rakewell’s head…It certainly wasn’t in the composer’s, because he had also included a minuet in this scene to which he hoped the chorus of lunatics would dance before Tom ‘with mocking gestures’. Nobody danced …there wasn’t room.” Tom Sutcliffe pointed out that the stark black and white sets and costumes, both heavily crossed hatched to resemble engravings, hindered the performers ability to communicate or even be noticed, they “melted into the environment rather than standing out from it.”

Thirty years on the décor is now the main attraction and the eye soon adjusts to everything being cross-hatched — right down to the pebbles that Nick Shadow uses to demonstrate the bogus bread machine. And with a few minor alterations, the obvious one being the name of the conductor, Richard Hickox, painted over the spot where Bernard Haitink's once was. The sets register well, even in a bigger theatre than the old Glyndebourne. Hockney's insistence on spacing the cross-hatching correctly actually improves the look from further back. Even the garish colours aren’t showing their age. The only drawback is in the scene changes — thirty years on it is uncommon to encounter 4-minute scene changes.

This Rake’s Progress is not a difficult score to sing, play or listen to anymore and this production was originally the vehicle for some auspicious early appearances. Jill Gomez and Felicity Lott both made their Glyndebourne debuts in the soprano lead of Anne Trulove within a year of making their official debuts on any stage. Anne is still a terrific role debut, this time for Australian soprano Leanne Kenneally. Anne's big 'scene' in Act I and beautiful lullaby in the last scene are superb moments, beautifully done by Kenneally. Its a pity Tom's music is not as catchy as Anne’s and that Nick Shadow, like Don Giovanni, has hardly anything in the way of an aria proper. But Shadow is an actor-singer's role and Tom's is an all round challenge. This makes the performances by John Heuzenroeder as Tom and Joshua Bloom as Shadow ideal calling cards as they continue to establish themselves internationally.

It is the designs, however, that are best remembered; and, considering that the opera was inspired by a visual source, to be remembered for its visual appeal seems only logical.

Michael Magnusson

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):