It’s not often that a chorus is encouraged to get their teeth into playing asylum inmates, brothel patrons and avaricious auction bidders all in the space of a couple of hours. The Rake’s Progress, however, is a dream for a large ensemble looking for a bit of fun.
A morality tale with a score by Stravinsky and a libretto by writer Chester Kallman and poet WH Auden, the opera is a somewhat eccentric confection. Based on Hogarth’s series of eight paintings, the story centres on the rise and fall of a young man led astray by the devil.
In modern terms, you could cast Britney Spears in the part of naïve young Tom Rakewell and Simon Cowell as Nick Shadow and pretty much the only change you’d have to make to the script is to rebrand Bedlam as The Priory.
Director David McVicar and designer John MacFarlane have done a dazzling job of painting a picture of 18th century life, the set, dressed as a stretcher for a paint canvas, constantly evolving and delighting with new surprises.
There is a real sense of mischief in the production, not least in the costumes, the wardrobe department indulging in sumptuous frock coats, BDSM corsetry and such a racy outfit for brothel owner Mother Goose that any panto dame worth her salt would get the vapours.
Taking the lead as anti-hero Tom Rakewell, Edgaras Montvidas really comes into his own in the last act as his character battles with the devil and descends into insanity. Carolyn Sampson’s faithful Ann Trulove was well received by the audience, the soprano roundly applauded for her efforts as the lovelorn milkmaid.
Yet the leads didn’t quite have the comic timing down that marked out the rest of the production, leaving one with the desire for a more intimate and rounded delivery of the text from the principals. The tantalising appearances of a bearded lady and her pet monkeys, an opulent auctioneer and a miraculous bread machine, however, proved enough of a diversion to focus the mind on all of the show’s many charms.
Run ends tomorrow