A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

On the way he discards the ever faithful and appropriately named Anne
Trulove and succumbs to the temptations of Nick Shadow in the guise of the
devil whose news of a windfall inheritance catapults Tom to a dissolute
life in London where he marries the bearded Baba-the-Turk, plunges into a
financially ruining bread-making scheme and, after defeating his alter ego
at cards, dies grieving for his beloved Anne in an asylum.

Grim stuff, but it’s an opera suited to the talents of young singers who in
this case were hand-picked musicians belonging to Barbara Hannigan’s

Young Artists

– a mentoring initiative for young professional musicians created in 2017
and here at Snape making their UK debut. This Rake’s Progress was
the grand finale of a series of European performances which had been
launched in Sweden at the end of last year. The production has been a
semi-staged affair from the start and any potential issues over balance and
space that might have been perceived in advance at Snape (where all the
players and singers occupy a single performance area) were immediately
dispelled. That said, Linus Fellbom’s directorial note in the programme
book indicating the use of a performing ‘box’ (used in earlier outings) had
to be ignored; this production left the performers free rein to use the
stage directly in front of the orchestra. Of course, much was left to the
imagination so that Mother Goose’s brothel and Sellem’s junk-filled auction
were left to the mind’s eye. But with acting and singing as distinguished
as this, there was little needed in the way of visual signposting to hold
the ear and eye. Without pauses for scene changes the action rattled along
with obliging swiftness.

That’s all credit to Hannigan (whose opera conducting debut this is) and
Fellbom who, in the absence of any set and props (not forgetting much
atmospheric lighting) provided sharply defined characters helped by some
thoughtfully conceived costumes – Tom ironically dressed in ‘pure’ white
and everyone else, including the innocent Anne, chorus and on-stage
orchestra, clad in funereal black with gender fluid overtones for Shadow,
whose culotte-like trousers might as well have been a skirt.

The cast was led by the young Welsh tenor Elgan Ll?r Thomas as the feckless Tom, whose brightly
lit tone swept through the score from the opening duet through to “death’s
approaching wing”. Able to command facial expression with ease, whether
shame, frustration or child-like naivety when incarcerated in Bedlam,
Thomas gave a truly persuasive portrait and his attempt to define love was
particularly touching. There was no lack of chemistry between him and Greek
soprano Aphrodite Patoulidou as a pure-toned Anne Trulove. Notwithstanding
a slightly pressured Act 1 ‘Quietly night’ (here just slightly too fast to
be as poignant as it can be), her Cabaletta had just the right steely
determination and her closing lullaby, ‘And no word from Tom’, wonderfully
tender, its heartbreak delivered the evening’s emotional climax.

Guadalupen-born Yannis Francois gripped throughout as the flamboyant Nick
Shadow, a gentlemen’s gentleman whose ample baritone and insidious presence
peaked in a compellingly wrought card game. Of the remaining cast, Fleur
Barron was a generously hirsute and idiosyncratic Baba the Turk, James Way
a confident man-about-town Sellem and Antoin Herrera-Lopez Kessel doubled
as a timid but sympathetic Father Trulove and androgynous Mother Goose. A
meticulously prepared chorus excelled as whores and roaring boys, auction
bidders and madmen, and strikingly taut instrumental support came from the
Ludwig Orchestra whose players (including Edo Frenkel on the harpsichord)
brought much luminous detail to Stravinsky’s chugging rhythms and spiky
outlines – the whole dispatched with Mozartian clarity. Praise too must be
heaped on Hannigan whose incisive direction and unflagging pace electrified
from the start, her minimal gestures sparking life into those opening
fanfares and her keenly sensitive ear securing an ideal balance between her
vocal and instrumental forces. In short, Hannigan and Fellbom nailed this
unstaged Rake to release its emotional energy with dramatic power. Among
the outstanding singers of Equilibrium are stars in the making.

David Truslove

Tom Rakewell – Elgan Ll?r Thomas, Anne Trulove –
Aphrodite Patoulidou, Nick Shadow – Yannis Francois, Baba the Turk – Fleur
Barron, Sellem – James Way, Father Trulove / Keeper of the Madhouse/Moose
Goose – Antoin Herrera-Lopez Kessel, Director/Design/Lighting – Linus
Fellbom, Conductor – Barbara Hannigan, Ludwig Orchestra & Chorus of
Opera Holland Park.

Snape Maltings Concert Hall; Thursday 20th June 2019.

product_title=The Rake’s Progress: Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh Festival 2019
product_by=A review by David Truslove
product_id=Above: Barbara Hannigan

Photo credit: Musacchio Ianniello