Stravinsky The Rake's Progress. English Touring Opera, BOC Covent Garden Festival, Peacock Theatre, London, 25 May 2000
Stravinsky's Rake's Progress has established itself as a regular repertoire opera, somewhat to my surprise because of its intrinsic problems which led to a mixed reception originally, but productions balance between success and failure on a knife edge. The English Touring Opera's version never caught fire at the Peacock Theatre. The orchestra had mastered the score, as was to be expected since this appearance was the last of seventeen venues in their tour. Th score was well enough played under Andrew Greenwood, if lacking the last bit of fizz, but the evening was doomed because of an inadequate Tom Rakewell, the central character who is rarely off stage. Perhaps Stephen Rooke was out of voice that night, I hope that was all. Anne-Clare Monk was a little shrill as Anne, his Trulove, who got sidelined by Rebecca Gale and Carol Rowlands as the brothel-keeper and the bearded lady whom he married for a bad joke at the instigation of Nick Shadow, alias the Devil himself.
There were two reasons which did make this production worth having seen. Emma Cattell had won a Linbury Prize for her witty and satirical stage design based on Hogarth, with special panels which can absorb and reflect light, so that changes of mood and settings can be suggested by changes in colour and light intensity. Her costumes and wigs were updated with vivid colours, those for the ladies on Tom's downward progress suitably grotesque.
But it may be that this Rake will be best remembered for the exceptional performance of James Rutherford as Nick Shadow. Economical in movement and gesture, dominating every scene in which he appears, his baritone voice is supple and even, with a mellifluous tone but an edge when required. A major operatic talent.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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