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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

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):