Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress

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I’m more of a theater buff and musical follower than an Opera lover, yet I’ve seen several around the world over the years, including London, Sydney, Boston, New York, LA and San Francisco. Now that I’m a west coaster, I’m tuning into the upcoming SF Opera House season, where Rake’s Progress opened Friday night, simultaneously playing with Macbeth. Madama Butterly starts next week and I already have tickets for Handel’s Ariodante in June.

Two days ago, the San Francisco Chronicle gave Rake’s Progress mixed reviews and I couldn’t have felt more at peace with the fact that he thought soprano Laura Aikin, the main female character, gave a sensitive but small-toned performance as the main character Anne.

Says the Chronicle, “she dispatched her show-stopping Act 1 aria, “Quietly, night,” with tender precision and (in the ensuing cabaletta) blazing athleticism, but too much of her performance bordered on inaudibility.” I sat there thinking, “polite.” While she gave us a glimpse into what her voice was capable of, her delivery was emotionless and bland.

Lepage and co-director Sybille Wilson transplant Stravinsky’s 18th century England original to the 1950s American West. Lead Tom Rakewell, played by William Burden, comes across as a soulless young boy without much gut, character or drive.

The devil (Mephistophelean Nick Shadow), leads him to London, where the stage then turns Hollywood, making fun of true love and urban life. I couldn’t help but think of a poor attempt at turning Sunset Boulevard into a cynical opera, but with a youthful innocent female partner who has no wit or energy.

So while Ann had a voice that could have likely carried me in another opera, the lyrics they gave her had me cringing after every word, bored with her in the first half hour and frustrated with the insanity of it all in the last 20 minutes.

The Chronicle calls Denyce Graves’ Baba’s voice patchy, but full of theatrical grandeur. Baba the Turk, who became Tom’s wife, was a strikingly interesting black woman with a beard that resembled the old man in Karate Kid. And yes, she was full of theatrical grandeur in ways that no other character came close to, not even Burden or the infamous James Morris who played Nick Shadow.

While the Chronicle turns to the production itself as a main source of the problem (in the end, I have to agree), it was also the lack of authenticity and connection by two out of the five main characters that left me feeling emotionless. I’m not sure I ever remember feeling emotionless at the end of any opera despite the fact that this was attempting to do just that. Or was it?

Where I also agree with the review is here: “for all its theatrical vitality, and for all the genuine wit and resourcefulness on display in individual scenes, this production never quite makes the case for its basic premise. For every inspired moment in which a plot detail is reimagined or reconfigured, Lepage winds up spending just as much time bending over backward dealing with the narrative consequences.”

That said, Carl Fillion’s set designs and Etienne Boucher’s lighting effects were just right. I have my hopes on the Spring and Summer performances.

Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
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One Response to Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress

  1. Coogle January 4, 2012 at 12:44 am #

    Stravinsky is great! Even when he writes “classic” it is still modern dot com/watch?v=eoFIQyjzzUE

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