OPERA NEWS - The Rake’s Progress
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In Review > North America

The Rake’s Progress

Portland Opera

Stravinsky may be the greatest composer of the twentieth century, and W. H. Auden may be a widely loved poet, but The Rake’s Progress had never been seen and heard in the Pacific Northwest before Portland Opera’s fiftieth anniversary season. It arrived on June 11 in the classic John Cox/David Hockney production created for the 1975 Glyndebourne Festival; Portland Opera used San Francisco Opera sets, costumes and props built in 1982 from Hockney’s designs. Portland Art Museum presented a concurrent exhibit of the eight William Hogarth engravings that inspired Hockney (after the eight paintings that inspired Stravinsky), the sixteen etchings of Hockney’s 1961-63 “Rake’s Progress” series, and twenty-five of Hockney’s Glyndebourne designs.

Hockney’s famous drop curtain (ubiquitous in Portland media for weeks) rose to show the first scene’s crosshatched greenery glistening in Nick Cavallaro’s lighting. The seemingly ageless designs looked fabulous to the finish — beyond anything Portland Opera had presented before. Stage director Roy Rallo’s blocking generally followed Cox, whose direction can be seen on two Glyndebourne videos. Ari Pelto conducted an enthusiastic orchestra that sported fine woodwind and horn playing, plus striking harpsichord work by David McDade.

Tenor Jonathan Boyd was a superb Tom Rakewell, forthright and cocky through much of his “progress,” chastened in the graveyard and Bedlam, his tone always attractive, his diction always clear. Soprano Maureen McKay was Anne Trulove to the life, singing beautifully with held high notes (on “goes” before and “art” in her cavatina, on the cabaletta-capping “heart,” on the goodbye to Tom) that, like her love, never wavered. Bass-baritone David Pittsinger was a baritonal Nick Shadow with diction to equal Boyd’s and admirable reserve, maintaining a sinister edge without snarling. As Baba the Turk, mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh commanded the stage and seemed to relish her rudely interrupted roulade and chesty low notes. As Trulove, Arthur Woodley and his resonant bass defined luxury casting. Tenor Ian José Ramirez was delightfully flamboyant and fey as the auctioneer Sellem. Beth Madsen Bradford’s Mother Goose and André Flynn’s Keeper of the Madhouse completed a cast without weakness. The chorus excelled as lusty-voiced “Whores, Roaring Boys, Servants, Citizens, Madmen.”

It added up to Portland Opera’s finest production in six years, since The Turn of the Screw and La Calisto back-to-back in 2009. Still, there were disappointments. For one accustomed to the fluency of the (edited) Glyndebourne videos, Portland Opera’s two intermissions and six set-changing pauses not only dragged out the work but seemed to alter its nature: it came off as nine loosely connected gems, like the Hogarth series, more than as one unified drama. Despite a mere three-performance run, a blitz of publicity and Portland Opera stressing Rake’s Mozartean aspects, whole sections of 2992-seat Keller Auditorium were empty, even before second-intermission attrition. As the epilogue began, many mistook the bright chords for a cadence and applauded over the singing, and some headed for the exits. —Mark Mandel

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