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August 5, 2012

Mad over Wolf Trap's The Rake's Progress

Call the Dresser a naïf or supreme sucker, as you will, Dear Reader, since her discoveries about modern opera persist. On August 3, 2012 in Vienna, Virginia, she heard and saw with rapt delight Wolf Trap Opera's new production of The Rake's Progress with music by Igor Stravinsky and words by W. H. Auden.


While the Dresser would not say this work, which originally premiered in 1951, is an easy opera to love--you won't walk away humming any tunes--it is supremely grand for its neoclassical music that evokes Mozart and for its rich poetic text. And yet the story is a fairy tale complete with the granting of three wishes and a devil character named Nick Shadow who brings the protagonist down, so far down he ends up in London's Bedlam madhouse. What is easy to love if you are an opera aficionado is the talent brought to this production. Tenor Eric Barry as Tom Rakewell has that Pavarotti je-ne-sais-quoi flair in voice, acting ability, and physique. He captivates as he shows us what a rogue he is in such lines as:

Since it is not by merit
We rise or we fall,
But the favour of Fortune
That governs us all,
Why should I labour?
For what in the end
She will give me for nothing
If she be my friend?
While if she be not, why,
The wealth I might gain
For a time by my toil would
At last be in vain.
Till I die, then of fever
Or by lightning am struck,
Let me live by my wits
And trust to my luck.
My life lies before me,
The world is so wide:
Come, wishes, be horses;
This beggar shall ride.

Soprano Corinne Winters as Anne Trulove easily masters the challenging Stravinsky score and seems both wise and innocently ignorant at the same time. What she writes on the Wolf Trap Blog captures what she is able to enact on stage with her voice and body language.

"For me, the big lush romantic operas are too relentlessly emotional. Yes, I know that Mimi and Gilda die, and when they do, it touches me. But Rake's music is clean, thoughtful, matter-of-fact, and yes, a bit detached when it needs to be. So that when it dives under that surface to communicate an emotional truth, it touches my heart in a way Puccini doesn't. ... When Anne's hesitation turns to action and her brooding b minor opens up to a rhythmically irresistible C major, I want to cheer out loud: Yes, for God's sake, go to him! ... And when Tom, lost in his own mind, is given the brief gift of a lucid moment to make music with Anne the way he always wanted to, I can't stand it."
What's deliciously rich about the singers chosen for the Wolf Trap Opera production is the emphasis on the bass baritone voice. Father Trulove (Aaron Sorensen) and the Keeper of the Madhouse (Anthony Michael Reed) are bass baritones as prescribed by Stravinsky's scoring but not Nick Shadow who Stravinsky scored as a baritone. Yet what character among the men better suits that darker range than Shadow? Without knowing about Stravinsky's intention, the Dresser noticed how well Craig Colclough as Shadow handled the upper and lower notes . Colclough's voice is just right for such recitative as:

"I was never saner. Come, master, observe the host of mankind. How are they? Wretched. Why? Because they are not free. Why? Because the giddy multitude are driven by the unpredictable, must of their pleasures and the sober few are bound by the inflexible ought of their duty, between which slaveries there is nothing to choose. Would you be happy? Then learn to act freely. Would you act freely? Then learn to ignore those twin tyrants of appetite and conscience. Therefore I counsel you, Masterrake -take Baba the Turk to wife. Consider her picture once more and as you do so reflect upon my words."

BabaSM.jpgMezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak as Baba the Turk is glorious as the bearded lady. Her voice is beautifully agile for Stravinsky's challenging music and she is convincing as a woman who both attracts and repulses.

Tenor James Kryshak as Sellem, the auctioneer is hysterically apt to play to the auction crowd which director Tara Faircloth mixes up with crossed dressed performers. When Tom Rakewell loses his fortune, his world seems to go mad with him.AuctionCrossDressersSM.jpg

Put the singing-acting talent together with scenic design by Erhard Rom (another suitable raked stage as in Wolf Trap's premiere of John Musto's Volpone) and the lush costumes of Rooth Varland (the scene in the whore house was an explosion of hot colors) and the formula for success exceeds any applause meter.whorehouseSM.jpg

Photo credit: Carol Pratt

About August 2012

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