Review – The Rake’s Progress

Mar 30 2012 | By More

* * * *

Karen Murray Scottish Opera The Rake's Progress. John McVicar, Mark Hamilton.

Mother Goose (Karen Murray) and chorus in Scottish Opera's The Rake's Progress. Photo credit Mark Hamilton.

Festival Theatre

Review by Thom Dibdin

A malignant skeleton leers down on the audience from the front cloth in Scottish Opera’s fine, fine production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Festival Theatre.

It’s a fitting image for this tale of young Tom Rakewell who, on the point of betrothal to Anne Trulove, wishes out loud that he had money – only to be confronted by the sudden appearance of one Nick Shadow, offering him untold riches and to make his every wish come true.

It doesn’t take much to work out that things are not going to go too smoothly for our Tom. Particularly when Old Nick promises to take payment one year hence. Obviously Tom’s bedtime reading didn’t stretch to Faust.

As the skeletal motif pervades every set in David McVicar’s production, you would be forgiven for taking the image on the front cloth at face value.

After-all the first stop in Tom’s progress is the debauched brothel of Mother Goose, the pink-toiled walls hung with a skull – as opposed to cuckoo – clock, suspended from skeletal fingers. The same bony fingers which pull back a curtain in Tom’s London apartment. A London whose sky is filled by the grim reaper.

But just at the final scene is about to start, as Tom is set descend into his final hell, he is cast out to the front of the stage and the cloth falls behind him, positioning him exactly so as to appear to be held in the skeleton’s bony hands.

Plaything of the Fates

It is a tableaux which not only sums up the thrust of the whole production, of Rakewell as a plaything of the Fates by whom he has been cast onto the stage in the fist place, but which indicates the depth of McVicar’s attention to detail. Everything in the opera, it seems, is geared towards creating this moment of insight.

Leah-Marian Jones The Rake's Progress. Scottish Opera, John McVicar Mark Hamilton

Baba the Turk (Leah-Marian Jones) The Rake's Progress. Photo credit Mark Hamilton

If McVicar and designer John Macfarlane’s details are a constant delight over the course of the evening – with each scene change throwing up another visual treat – the delight is not carried to every element of the production.

Most of the cast prove to be fitting exponents of the music. The chorus of The Rakes Progress in impressive form, enjoying their lusty adventures as workers for – and patrons of – the preposterously busted Mother Goose  and as a variety of high-society leeches mocking Tom in his downfall. The orchestra, under conductor Sian Edwards ensure a slick and balanced approach to the score.

Of the soloists, Carolyn Sampson stands out as Anne Trulove. Her voice is big and emotional enough to carry her most poignant aria, deciding to follow Tom to London fearful for his safety and fully aware of what truths might meet her there.

Steven Page’s Nick Shadow dominates and bosses the action by insinuation, with a commanding authority to his voice. Graeme Broadband has a solid, authoritative bass as Trulove, Anne’s father who doubt’s Tom’s commitment from the start.

Leah-Marian Jones really makes the most of Baba the Turk – the bearded woman who Tom is persuaded to marry when he becomes tired of debauchery. Jones’ Baba is a delightfully human creation, sensual despite her appearance and flying off into the most extraordinarily rages.

Which really only leaves Tom Rakewell. And while Edgaras Montvidas has a suitable physical presence, his accent and phrasing pull the words and language away from the music to unpleasant effect. On a practical level, it turns the surtitles from a luxury to a necessity if you are to understanding what is being sung.

Not hugely impressive for an opera sung in English.

Which is sad, because on every other level this is a production to relish. Hopefully it will return in the fullness of time with a more appropriate performer in the title role.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Run ends Saturday 31 March 2012
Shows: 7.15pm.
Scottish website:


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