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The Rake's Progress
Wolf Trap Opera Company
A Wolf Trap peak: Barry and Winters in Faircloth’s Rake’s Progress staging
© Carol Pratt/Wolf Trap Opera 2012
Wolf Trap Opera Company hit one of its highest peaks of the past decade with a bracing production of The Rake's Progress that featured an appealing cast, well up to the challenges of Stravinsky's prismatic score, and incisive, tightly meshed direction and design. Through it all, the heart beneath the opera's satire beat distinctly. On August 5 at the Barns at Wolf Trap, Eric Barry left an impressive mark in the title role with a bright, clear timbre, evenness of projection and exceptional sensitivity to subtleties of text and melodic contour. The tenor proved to be a persuasive actor as well, conveying Tom's moral and mental descent with considerable skill and, in the final scene, producing sweet, subtle singing that proved quite affecting. As Anne, Corinne Winters was a somewhat aloof presence early on, but her characterization quickly gained an emotional core. Her voice, with its strikingly rich low register, had a valuable impact right from the start. A touch of edginess in the upper reaches was easily forgotten in light of the soprano's keen expressiveness, which produced a theater-filling radiance in "Gently, little boat." Craig Colclough, looking quite the London banker in his bowler hat, oozed charm and smarm as Shadow. The bass-baritone tended to stay at a forte level or above, but the warmth and sturdiness of his voice paid dramatic dividends throughout.
A sympathetic Trulove, Aaron Sorensen summoned sufficient vocal weight and shaped his lines eloquently. James Kryshak's bright tenor, vivid way with a phrase and exuberant acting hit the spot as Sellem. Margaret Gawrysiak put her plush mezzo to highly effective use as Baba the Turk. She handled the comic bits with bravado but also made sure that a genuine tenderness emerged when Baba encouraged a distraught Anne in Act III. Gawrysiak also had a good romp as Mother Goose in Act I. Members of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio formed the finely honed, spirited chorus. Anthony Michael Reed stepped out of that ensemble to sing the asylum keeper's lines with a promising bass. The orchestra responded in dynamic, disciplined fashion to conductor Dean Williamson, who ensured taut, crisp rhythms but allowed for plenty of gently molded phrasing as well.
Director Tara Faircloth set the opening of the opera with Tom already in a hospital room. Whether the ensuing action was viewed as a flashback or a dream, the result proved absorbing. With such little details as Tom's amusingly conveyed hangover at the start of Act II and the terrifically buoyant choreography for the auction scene, Faircloth gave the production an extra kick at nearly every turn. She was aided greatly by designer Erhard Rom. His set, with its architectural and playing-card motifs, enabled an effortless flow and continual dramatic tension. Rooth Varland completed the visual attractions with vibrant costumes that played drolly with time periods and, for choristers during the auction, genders.
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