Review – The Rake’s Progress – Royal Opera House

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My interest in seeing the Royal Opera’s version of The Rake’s Progress broke down into two main components. First, I like Stravinsky. I’ve never seen one of his operas, though, but gotta go, right? Second, it was directed by totally famous rock star level director dude Robert Lepage. I mean, I haven’t exactly seen anything he’s done before, but all of the pictures are very cool. And, hey, I found some cheap little seats for 16 quid up in the Amphitheater. And it was going to be in English!

*sigh*

Why oh WHY couldn’t my memories of this show be of something besides the set design? Lepage (who I kept wanting to call Leplant, blame Led Zeppelin) was really wowtastic from start to finish, even though this wasn’t brand spanking new, it was only from 2007 so pretty damned close to cutting edge. This was clear even in the first scene, where the backdrop of animated clouds (over a field, as it were, seemingly in America’s Midwest) moved gently but not self-aggrandizingly, managing even to add to the feeling on stage by becoming darker as the story moved forward and Tom Rakewell (Toby Spence) made his deal with Nick Shadow (not sure who played it this night) and sealed his doom. Wow, Lepage actually gets how to incorporate animation in a way that works! It basically made me think from the very start, “Yep, we’re in the hands of a master here!”

And the miracles continue – the bed that sucks into the stage when Tom Rakewell is “claimed” by Madame Mother Goose (Frances McCafferty), the AMAZING inflatable airstream trailer that is blown up through a tiny hole in the stage, the wee, wee little house with the shadow in the windows representing Mr. Trulove trying to figure out where his daughter Anna (Rosemary Joshua) has gone while she runs around (mostly) in front of the stage as if she’s very, very far from the house. God, I loved the house. And then Anna in her car, with her scarf pulling behind her as if in the wind, finally caught (on a string) and blown away in a beautiful “moment.”

So many moments. So very boring.

According to someone who knows opera much better than I do, whom I heard as I walked toward the exit (at the interval), Toby Spence had a great voice for this part, a very youthful sound but also very strong despite the fact that he was really carrying a lot of stage time. Rosemary Joshua was judged to have not quite his stamina and to have been tiring noticably during the final scene.

I could sympathize, really. While I enjoyed the recitative (I think that’s the right word) moments that had a very 18th century sound to them that I like (will have to research how Stravinsky came up with the score), the rest of the music just wasn’t grabbing me. When the interval came, I realized I was only staying for the spectacle, and I just didn’t care enough about the singing or the rest of the music to want to stay. I’d got my money’s worth, but I was wishing I’d just given up on the tickets and gone to see another Ozu movie at the BFI instead, and angry that it was now so late that I couldn’t possibly see the last showing of Late Autumn. A bad sign, really. But, you know, Chando’s Opera Room was just a short walk away and I did manage to end the evening on a high note – just not one that was coming from a stage.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 30th, 2010. I am going to try to see Tamerlano, which I’m hoping I will enjoy more as it’s an era I groove on more. Ping me if you have some tips for cheap tix as it’s way out of my price range even in the amphitheater.)

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