Archive for March 22nd, 2012

There was a genuine air of excitement and anticipation on the opening night of David McVicar’s new co-production of The Rake’s Progress for Scottish Opera and Teatro Regio Torino.   McVicar had been telling the press that he had been simply bursting to direct this work, last performed by Scottish Opera in 1971 so his return to Glasgow was keenly anticipated.   This production marked a welcome return to Glasgow too for Sian Edwards who made her opera conducting debut as a last-minute stand in for an indisposed Simon Rattle for Scottish Opera’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny  in 1986.

Rake's Progress

Edgaras Montvidas as Tom Rakewell.
Rake's Progress. Photo: Mark Hamilton

The plot follows the famous series of paintings by William Hogarth depicting the spendthrift Tom Rakewell’s decline in the seedier side of London in the 1700s.  Tom is beguiled by Nick Shadow who persuades him to leave his beloved, Anne Truelove for more exciting times in the big smoke and we follow his eventful journey from brothel to Bedlam.

John MacFarlane designed a stripped back wooden set on which to set the drama, yet there was so much detail placed on it, it would be possible to see this production several times and still see new things.   A massive skull on the front stagecloth staring down into the pit set the scene, and there were a few clever touches like a giant children’s cardboard theatre to illustrate the story of Tom’s fictitious uncle and a remarkable Heath Robinson machine for making loaves out of stones.

McVicar conjured up a chorus of brilliantly individual characters who followed Tom on his journey bedecked in outrageous wigs and gaudy costumes.    In particular, the intricate set pieces in Mother Goose’s bright pink brothel (with Timorous Beastie-like wallpaper) and boisterous sale of Baba the Turk’s possessions were fabulously done, and stunningly lit by David Finn.

Lithuanian Edgaras  Montvidas was a magnificently strong Tom, the complete innocent who grows up fast and Steven Page, a dapper Nick Shadow.   The two were well matched, and in great voice.   Carolyn Sampson as Anne was a little lightweight in contrast to the men, but blew us away with her aria at the end of the first act.    Leah-Marian Jones gave a perfectly judged character role as the bearded Baba the Turk, silenced in mid flow by a large red cloth as one would a caged bird, and yet compassionate as she urged Anne to follow her truelove Tom.

The opera is stuffed full of fun, but has its very dark side, no moreso than when Tom tries to buy back his soul with a game of guess the card with Shadow.   The two voices battle it out with just a harpsichord in the pit, but even as Tom answers correctly, Shadow has the last word and strikes Rakewell mad.  During the evening, McVicar occasionally let his players stray to the edge of the orchestra pit, moving out of the action to deliver an apt aside to the audience, thus setting things up for the final moral Epilogue:  the more fun you have during the opera, the more powerful the message.

Rake's progress Scottish Opera

A Chorus of Individuals. Rake's Progress.
Photo: Mark Hamilton

Sian Edwards says that she discovered a way into the neo baroque music of the Rake’s Progress through Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, and in the space of two days it was wonderful to have been able to see both operas live in Glasgow.   The orchestra was on top form, the strings absolutely together on the staccato chords, the woodwind brought out from under the stage and placed on Edwards’ far left for extra brightness and the trumpets who were star turns.

This was an enjoyable evening, which more than lived up to its expectations and an important one which allowed everyone at Scottish Opera to really shine.

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Wonderful performance of the Rape of Lucretia in a studio space by RCS in Glasgow.

See my review on Bachtrack.


Rape of Lucretia


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