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Review Roundup: Boston Lyric Opera's THE RAKE'S PROGRESS

Review Roundup: Boston Lyric Opera's THE RAKE'S PROGRESS

Boston Lyric Opera's (BLO) production of The Rake's Progress, opened on March 12 for a four-performance run at Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre. It brings to life the traditional story of a young man seduced by monetary and carnal pleasures at the hand of a devilish valet. The work hasn't been presented in a fully staged professional production since BLO produced it in 1987. A professional concert version and several conservatories have been staged, but productions in Boston are infrequent.

Let's see what the critics had to say:

Zoë Madonna, Boston Globe: Enough good things cannot be said about the cast. As the impetuous young Tom, Bliss initially let warm high notes flow with the easy assurance of someone who knows fortune has favored him, and later added a bitter edge and delicate quaver as his character was corrupted and then driven insane. Bass Kevin Burdette inhabited the role of the devil Shadow with sharp grace, dressed in an improbable combination of red and burgundy and gazing after Tom like a cat after a plump vole. Anya Matanovic was a magnetic Anne, singing with lilting, luminous confidence.

Keith Powers, WBUR: The BLO production is a winner by almost all accounts. The voices - Anya Matanovic (Anne), Ben Bliss (Tom), Kevin Burdette (Shadow), Heather Johnson (Baba the bearded woman) - are all first-rate, with palettes perfectly suited to their roles. Conductor David Angus worked marvels in the pit with Stravinsky's chamber-proportioned score. The staging gleamed with style. Costumes had personality.

Laura Stanfield Prichard, The Boston Musical Intelligencer: The role of Tom Rakewell requires the stamina of Norma and the cool flexibility of a leggiero tenor. He is almost always with us onstage, and Ben Bliss pulls out all the stops for this role, growing gradually stronger and surer as his character progresses. His powerful "Here I stand" opens the show, and his gorgeous hymns to Venus in Act III (sitting on a heartbreaking shred of Astroturf) almost bring us to our knees with him. Auden felt for his title character, remarking, "All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addition is damnation," but Stravinsky redeems Tom again and again through song. Rakewell provided Stravinsky with opportunities to write his longest, most tonal melodies, so I find it interesting that the composer praised Gounod for working in opera even though critics labeled him "a symphonist astray in the theater." Like The Rake's Progress, critics declared that Faust was "not the work of a melodist," and Stravinsky ironically observed that critics "reproached [Gounod] with having 'achieved his effects not through the voices, but through the orchestra'". Yet his Rake's Progress seems to take these criticisms as a credo.

Doug Hall, ZEAL NYC: Stravinsky's score is supported by a libretto written by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman who expand on Hogarth's parable theme. Auden, already renown as a modern English poet, would write other librettos, but a particularly strong connection with this work merged, as stated in Stravinsky's own words, "As soon as we began work together I discovered that we shared the same views not only about opera, but also on the nature of the Beautiful and the Good. Thus the opera is indeed, and in the highest sense, a collaboration." What evolves is a wonderful and powerful synthesis of melodic score and vibrant storytelling that takes center stage.

Harvard Blog: There is so much great action in the Hogarth drawings, but little of it is portrayed in the opera. Tom Rakewell sings about how respectable women are lining up to try to marry him for the cash (out-of-wedlock child-bearing for profitwas impractical in those days), but we never see him spending time with any of these prospectives, only full-time professional prostitutes. Hogarth shows a packed gambling den, but it is missing from the opera.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

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