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S & H Opera Review

Stravinsky, The Rake's Progress, Théàtre des Champs-Elysées, November 28, 2001 (FC)

At the Théàtre des Champs-Elysées, following last month's magical Nozze conducted by René Jacobs, there were five performances of a crisp and delicious Rake's Progress, one of Stravinsky's unqualified masterpieces and one of the most performed of the post-war works for the lyric stage. A concurrent new production of this opera at the ENO only confirms its justified place in the repertory of many major houses.

A production debuted last season at the Opéra de Lausanne by the stage director André Engel, it also featured the handsome sets and costumes of Nicki Rieti. With the young and talented conductor Jonathan Darlington and a cadre of young talent that could both sing and act, it made for an irresistible night at the opera. Engel placed the action in 1950's New York and singing was of the highest order with special notice to an excellent young American tenor, Thomas Randle as Tom Rakewell. He is another of the young crop of singers who came from the ranks of Baroque performance, as evidenced by his clarity of detail and pure tone. David Pittsinger was a smarmy and mellifluous Nick Shadow and his scenes with Randle were charged with electricity. Dorothee Jansen sang the role of Anne Truelove with touching effect.

Tenor Peter Hoare, the Don Basilio in the Nozze last month, almost stole the show with his radiant and larger-than-life Sellem. In the program there was a moving interview with the legendary tenor Hugues Cuenod who originated the role of Sellem when the opera was first performed in 1951 in Venice (and who, next July, will be celebrating his centenary.) The great contralto Gwendolyn Killebrew shows she still has plenty of sex appeal (and voice) in the role of Mother Goose.

The refined direction of Darlington of a chamber orchestra-sized Orchestre National de France illuminated the detail and wealth of invention inherent in this work. It is an opera that truly unites music and theatre, and was presented here with impressive clarity and charm.

Frank Cadenhead

See also review of the ENO production

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