Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Rake's Progress in Lille

The Rake's Progress, Opéra de Lille, October 16, 2011

Tom and Anne -- Alek Shrader and Christiane Karg

  David Lescot ..... Director
  Arie Van Beek ..... Conductor

Alek Shrader ..... Tom Rakewell
Christiane Karg ..... Anne Trulove
Alan Ewing ..... Trulove
Christopher Purves ..... Nick Shadow
Frances McCafferty ..... Mother Goose
Anne Mason ..... Baba-Turk
Alasdair Elliott ..... Sellem

Orchestre de Picardie
Choeur de l’Opéra de Lille (Yves Parmentier)

Rare are the operas with such a great libretto like The Rake's Progress. Any talented director will find a way to stage this opera to capture the viewer's attention on more than musical and scenic levels. Any particular production of this work should expose the viewer's particular sensibilities -- i.e. those that the director decided to isolate and emphasize.

The main atmosphere of this work is bitter and pessimistic --just as you would expect it to be when written by the people who survived both the Great Depression and the WW2-- but it divulges certain form of optimism that seems natural for the people who lived the general post-WW2 enthusiasm.

Aficionados of the Mozart operas are particularly sensitive to the form of this opera because it is basically Mozartian, but its musical eclecticism definitely contains the fragments of Stravinsky's modernity too.

The artistic management of the Lille Opera had a clever idea to confide this production to a young theater director who never produced an opera before but whose musicality in his previous works was particularly obvious and apparently suggestive. David Lescot produced this show as if it was the theatrical piece. He and his team insisted on keeping the fluidity of the show, and so --apart from  the intermission-- there was no interruption to the music or to the dramatic action at all. The sets were minimalistic, with very little video in the background, and with a scaffolding structure that was moved up on the stage to discern the action in the apartments in London.

The action and the actual story telling unfolds thanks to the acting -- thanks to the superb acting. The show is visually little spectacular, although the debauchery part is very efficiently staged with a visual reference to the guys from A Clockwork Orange and the female characters looking like Lulu's. The main scenic quality of this production resides in building the emotional impact on public. The packed auditorium of the Opéra de Lille was dead silent throughout the show. This is a stage option that works perfectly well in the auditorium of this size [Opéra Comique in Paris would make a great decision if they co-produced this show and presented it in Paris too.]

David Lescot wanted to highlight the cruelty and the phoniness of the world in which Tom and others evolve [particularly well realized episode about the bread-making machine], and only then focuses on the intimate voyage of Tom, Anne, and others.  What is interesting is that David Lescot's Baba the Turk is a very positive and honest personality. Baba is an egocentric, like most artists are, but ultimately she is a good person who --in the moments when she's lost everything-- encourages Anna to keep looking for love that still burns for her in Tom's heart.

This production literally breaths on stage thanks to the actors/singers. It is theater plus music/singing that almost naturally sooth emotions built on/from the plot.

Arie van Beek and his orchestra were particularly careful, very well tuned the volume as to never drown the singers. As for the singers, they were all excellent. Apart from Christopher Purves, I don't believe they are big voices that would fill up large venues, but for this kind of theaters they were absolutely wonderful -- the finesse, the beauty of the sound, and perfectly at ease so that they could indulge in their acting abilities. Christopher Purves is a superb Nick Shadow. His voice can be sweet and then menacing,  just a perfect fit for the devilish character.
Alek Shrader is a handsome man which is not irrelevant for this role. His presence on the stage is cannot pass unnoticed even if he didn't sing. In the first part of the show I thought he was vocally tentative, but then in the second he unleashed it all out: he sang beautifully, powerfully, carving every emotion by the vocal finesse, and giving every word the attention it deserves. His acting was astonishing, and grew as the show progressed to reach its apotheosis in the scene at the mental hospital, that I thought was a rare moment of wonderful acting in opera. I understood this was his role debut and he deserves congrats for this brilliant job! He was one of the singers who came to Lille for this show after the  Salzburger Festspiele. Another one was Christiane Karg who sang Zerlina in Salzburg and here she debuted as Anna Trulove. Her beautiful Mozartian voice, at ease in all registers, was more than suitable for the role, and her good and expressive looks added to her remarkable stage presence. Other singers, singing smaller but important parts (Alan Ewing, Alasdair Eliott, Anna Mason) were good too.

Scarce production/rehearsal photos:

Tom (Alek Shrader) and Nick (Christopher Purves)

Anne (Christiane Karg) and Tom

Rehearsal photo: David Lescot and Christiane Karg (Shrader in the b/g)

My pics:

Frances McCafferty, Alan Ewing, Christopher Purves, and Alek Shrader

Sfrader, van Beek, and Karg the chorus (Anne Mason far right in the photo)

Opéra de Lille on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon

Nice inside photo of this elegantly looking theater



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