OPERA - OTHER COMPOSERS - THE RAKE'S PROGRESS - REVIEW
Be deaf to the prude
proclaims The Rake’s Progress,
the 1951 opera by Igor Stravinsky. Inspired by the 1735 images of
William Hogarth, the libretto tracks a youth through sin to insanity.
A 1975 production by
Director John Cox and Designer David Hockney has washed up at Bennelong
Point as a “New Production” for Opera Australia. After a local
touch-up, the costumes and sets do not look tired. The malaise was there
from the start in the English disease of gentility.
Where is Bedlam?
Hints of it were there
in the early 1960s when the young English artist David Hockney did a
suite of etchings based on his own progress through the gay life of the
United States. That set aspired to the spirit of Hogarth. The staging
retreated into cross-hatching, honouring the form while fleeing the
content. With a sexually ambiguous libretto, Auden and Kalman had opened
the way with for a descent into the perdition of perversity.
achieved a consistent patterning in his sets, and between them and the
costumes. The prettiness of this universe of tablecloths is another
concession to the sweetness of lower-middle class domesticity, away from
which the critic John Berger had hoped Hockney would lead English
artists. Worse still, the graveyard scene is from the stockroom while
the asylum is clinical, yet kindly. And this, a decade after The
The progress hits other
speed bumps by bringing up the house lights for five minutes to switch
the sets between every scene. The timidity tamed the Brothel scene so
that the Mother Goose of Elizabeth Campbell could not seduce the
audience with her ravaging of the protagonist, Tom Rakewell.
In that role, John
Heuzenroeder sustains the childishness that led his character into
perdition. His voice was weakest when lyrical but engaging at emotional
Much the same was true
for Leanne Kenneally as his fiancé, Anne Trulove. Her high point came
in the solo scene before she runs away to find Tom. Her portrayal
reached distractedness, but further muffled her diction.
Tom has married Baba
the Turk, a bearded lady and talking machine. Catherine Carby
established that combination of delights, only to let them slip.
Joshua Bloom as Nick
Shadow overshadowed the other principals, with saturnine appearance,
perfect projection, precision in patter and by realizing the histrionic
through understatement. The hollowness of his laughter rang true. Just
as the vigor of his timbre needs more colouring, his sardonic manner
needed salting with irony.
As auctioneer Sellem,
Kanen Breen once more demonstrated his physical and vocal capacities to
create vignettes that energise entire proceedings.
In keeping with the
production’s suburban reading of the deadly sins, London’s populace
displayed more eagerness to possess property than to pleasure each
other. This avarice allowed the chorus to shine, providing a passion
absent in the pit where exactitude prevailed.