A finely sung and staged Rake’s Progress from The Grange Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by WH Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic “progress” from blissful ignorance to Bedlam. 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 wallet-emptying bread-making scheme and, after defeating his alter ego at cards, dies grieving for his beloved Anne in an asylum.

Alexandra Oomens (Anne Trulove) & Adam Temple-Smith (Tom Rakewell)

At the Grange Festival, director and designer Antony McDonald opted for a pared-back staging: a leafy garden tree and suspended cattle, conjuring a pastoral idyll for Tom and Anne’s simple country life, later making way for a crumpled bed marking the beginning of Tom’s depravity in London. A picture-book town house and a darkly lit graveyard scene (Peter Mumford’s ghoulish lighting especially effective here) give way to an uncluttered and sterile-looking asylum where grey-tiled walls enclose Tom and other white-clad inmates. It’s a world away from the blissful paradise of the opening scene.

The cast was led by the pleasing tenor of Adam Temple-Smith as the feckless, gullible Tom. From an initially pallid performance, showing little sense of drive or ambition as a rake, his low-key portrayal grew in stature and eventually drew our sympathy as a hapless soul unable to control his fate. By the time of his incarceration, one felt genuine compassion for him. Vocally, he was at his most touching when ruminating about love or beseeching the sweet-natured Anne Truelove to return home when she comes to London. If her character is more one-dimensional, Alexandra Oomens made the most of it, her gentle devotion to Tom captured to perfection. A real sense of chemistry between them was also evident, Oomen’s kindly expression and natural stage presence a bonus. ‘And no word from Tom’ had just the right degree of tenderness, while the neighbouring ‘Quietly night’ (some fine bassoon playing here) felt just slightly too fast. Her resolve to find Tom brought some steely tone, notwithstanding a persuasive high B natural. That said, her traversal from despair to determination was utterly convincing, her brief lullaby near the end beautifully poignant.

Michael Mofidian (Nick Shadow) & Adam Temple-Smith (Tom Rakewell)

Michael Mofidian made a credible Nick Shadow, his insidious gentlemen’s gentleman gripping throughout, startlingly so in a brief homo-erotic moment when leaving Tom’s bed in Act 2. There was plenty of grit when declaring Tom’s future for ‘In youth the panting slave’ and fury after losing his card game. Cameo roles were well judged with Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Mother Goose, Darren Jeffrey as a benign Father Truelove and John Graham Hall’s characterful Sellem who brings the auction scene vividly to life. But it was Rosie Aldridge’s vividly projected and goatee-wearing Baba the Turk who took the evening’s biggest share of honours. Her charisma, comic timing and richly furnished voice all contributed to make for a memorable performance, the whole crowned by her imperious declaration that we shall pay “The next time you see Baba”.

Completing Stravinsky’s colourful troupe were the Grange Festival Chorus as Hogarth’s roaring boys and whores, handsomely turned out in 18th century costumes and suitably roistering for their brothel and auction scenes. Critically acclaimed conductor Tom Primrose coaxed incisive playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, underlining Stravinsky’s chugging rhythms and his multivarious chamber and solo combinations that make up this eclectic score.

David Truslove

The Rake’s Progress
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Libretto: W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman

Cast and production staff:

Tom Rakewell – Adam Temple-Smith; Anne Trulove – Alexandra Oomens; Nick Shadow – Michael Mofidian; Baba the Turk – Rosie Aldridge; Sellem – John Graham Hall; Father Trulove – Darren Jeffrey; Mother Goose – Catherine Wyn-Rogers; Keeper of the Madhouse – Dan D’Souza.

Antony McDonald – Director & Designer; Peter Mumford – Lighting; Movement Director – Lucy Barge; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & Grange Festival Chorus; Tom Primrose – Conductor.

The Grange Festival, Northington, Hampshire, 4 July 2022.

Top Image: Adam Temple-Smith (Tom Rakewell) centre, & Ladies of The Grange Festival Chorus.

All photos © Craig Fuller.