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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Rake's Progress

Stravinsky's searing morality tale returns for just three performances.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jumping the shark: Stephanie Blythe (center) is bearded lady Baba the Turk
in The Rake's Progress. Photo by Jack Vartoogian © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
The last Met production of the season is the company's revival of a 20th century classic. Jonathan Miller production of Stravinsky's opera stars Juilliard-trained tenor Paul Appleby (Two Boys) in the title role.

Under the stewardship of general manager Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera has gotten into the practice of relegating interesting 20th century operas to the very end of the season--invariably for just a few performances. The "tradition" ended last year when a planned revival of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny was nixed in favor of more performances of Cosí fan tutte. It resumes in 2015 with this very necessary revival of The Rake's Progress.

Stravinsky's opera, with a libretto by W.H. Auden is the tale of Tom Rakewell, a hapless protagonist whose poor life choices end in tragedy, penury and madness. This Jonathan Miller production (first seen at the Met 12 years ago with the late Jerry Hadley in the title role) charts Tom's "progress" along a downward spiral, goaded and guided by the demonic Nick Shadow, a Mephistopheliean bass whose goal is to acquire Tom's soul.

This opera rests firmly in the composer's neo-classical style, with sly music references and in-jokes peppering a score full of memorable melodies and catchy hooks. Paul Appleby sings the title role for the first time at the Met. Stephanie Blythe dons a turban and beard as Baba the Turk. Layla Claire is Anne Trulove and Gerald Finley takes on the devilish role of Nick Shadow. James Levine conducts.

The Rake's Progress opens May 1.

Recording Recommendation: 
London Symphony Orcheste cond. John Eliot Gardiner (DG, 1999
Tom Rakewell: Ian Bostridge
Nick Shadow: Bryn Terfel
Ann Trulove: Deborah York
Baba the Turk: Anne Sofie von Otter
Period performance specialist John Eliot Gardiner filled a much-needed gap with this modern recording of Stravinsky's opera from the 1990s. Featuring Bryn Terfel's terrifying turn as Nick Shadow (just wait for the graveyard scene) and a plaintive performance from Ian Bostridge as Tom.

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