At Wilton's Music Hall, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress is the first ever production by the box-fresh OperaGlassWorks, and it is staged with polish and panache, with especial attention to theatre as well as musical skills. This is the primary aim of director Selina Cadell, who observes that today's live opera relays and cinematic close-ups require better-than-ever acting – her own original profession.
The Rake's Progress is a 'tribute' opera – a tributes to composers from Handel to Verdi – and, as such, it is a masterly exercise in mimicry, shot through with the Russian composer's own astringent originality.
On Wilton's diddy stage, simply dressed by Tom Piper with snakes and ladders for the central character's in Tom Rakewell's perilous game of life, everyone is in the zone, every second. Personally I am never convinced by the wholesome buxomness of on-stage prostitutes, given the wretchedness of their reality on the streets, but the whole opera is like a nursery rhyme for grown-ups, and so they are allowed a certain picture-book quality. It did, after all, grow out of Hogarth's vivid scenes of an idle young man's rise to wealth, followed by a fall to depravity and lunacy.
So we have a devilish villain, Nick Shadow – in this luxury casting, he is played by the rich-voiced baritone Jonathan Lemalu; far too loveable a rogue for a man who attempts to lure a man to his death, and then propels him to madness instead. The innocent, Anne Truelove, faithful to feeble Tom, is sweetly and firmly sung here by Susanna Hurrell.
Pristine tenor Robert Murray has such beauty of voice as Tom, it is quite hard to believe the character's other gifts and judgement are so lacking. As Tom's spur-of-the-moment bride, Baba the Turk, Victoria Simmonds sports only a painted (or 'tattoo-ed') beard, and not the luxuriant growth that is her calling card; but she is suitably daring in her performance.
The Rake's Progress is delightful to look at, with its 18th-century trappings; even early music specialist Laurence Cummings at the harpsichord and conducting the inestimable Southbank Sinfonia is gussied up like Handel, with frock coat and wig. And everyone is working their silken socks off. The crystal-clear diction, making the most of WH Auden and Chester Kallman's smart libretto, is a treat. But maybe it's a little too carefully studied, a little too confident.
OperaGlassWorks has faultless aims and amazing resources: most other companies would have to do a deal with Nick Shadow to create a production of this quality with a top seat price of only £25. But for raw emotion and daring passion it was impossible not to think back a few days to the wilder energy on the same stage – and with the same band let off the leash – of the Royal Opera House's La Tragédie de Carmen.
|The Rake's Progress review , Wilton's Music Hall
|Wilton's Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB | MAP
|Tower Hill (underground)
17 Nov 17 – 25 Nov 17, 7:30 PM – 10:15 PM
|£15 - £25
|Click here for more information and booking