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Tom Rakewell Stephen Anthony Brown [Benjamin Francis]
Trulove Matthew Kellett
Anne, his daughter Charmian Bedford [Helen Bailey]
Nick Shadow Daniel Roddick/
[Christopher Ruscoe PICTURED]
Mother Goose Melanie Sanders
Baba the Turk Belinda Williams [Stephanie Seeney]
Sellem an auctioneer Simon Iorio [Michael Webborn]
Keeper Dario Dugandzic


A welcome in haste (before flying to Switzerland) to last night's premiere of Trinity College's innovative Rake in the Round at Blackheath Great Hall.

Mike Ashman's not-to-be-missed production, with the audience on three sides of the vast acting area, is hugely imaginative, with several coups de theatre* and Belinda Williams a simply gorgeous Baba The Turk...

The Trinity College Opera Company soloists and chorus acquit themselves well and are thoroughly at home in the idiom. Stravinsky's music used to be thought difficult and the opera had a mixed reception when it was new. Everyone was comfortable in the neo-classic idiom and Gregory Rose's direction of the orchestra is admirable; everyone gives better than their best.

The College has more than twice turned to advantage not having a dedicated theatre of its own; see also Musical Pointers' appreciation of their The Beggar's Opera and The Threepenny Opera at Blackheath Great Hall in June 2006.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* re: several coups de theatre - I did not want to spoil those for future audiences. The first of them was to build on the Auden/Kallman's Devil's being named SHADOW. A screen allowed this connection to be made literal, emphasising that the plot was driven by Tom's own alter ego. Other props were minimal, e.g. a few stacking chairs as illustrated. The chorus was made particularly menacing in their harsh delivery, whether as clients of Mother Goose or bidders at the auction, and moving in the asylum as Tom's fellow patients by understatement of the usual 'madness' clichés.

Lastly, Ashman picked up on the deranged Tom's believing himself to be Adonis, insisting on the fellow patients being his "subjects", and greeting Anne, brought in on a cart in a scallop shell, as his long awaited Venus. Brilliant. [PGW]

Check out the Trinity Opera links at http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/menotti_williamson.htm:

Trinity College of Music does not have a specialist post-graduate opera department, but taken on its own excellent terms the broad-based vocal department offers a wide experience in preparation for the real musical world as it is. I have in the past admired their productions of Purcell's King Arthur in Greenwich, Diana Burrell's The Albatross at Spitalfields, Monteverdi's Poppea at St Bartholomew's in the City, and now Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street at the Peacock Theatre. Following those links will give you a rounded picture of Trinity's enterprise and achievement in this field. (PGW 2003)

And, for another brilliant 'minimalistic' interpretation, Alexander Schulin's production of The Rake's Progress at the Lucerne Festival, 2005 [Editor]

Igor Stravinsky The Rake's Progress

Anne Trulove Sally Matthews
Tom Rakewell Charles Castronovo
Nick Shadow John Relyea
Mother Goose Kathleen Wilkinson
Baba the Turk Patricia Bardon
Trulove Darren Jeffery
Sellem Peter Bronder
Conductor Thomas Adés
Director Robert Lepage

Royal Opera House 14 July 2008

Difficult, so soon after Mike Ashman's exceptional Rake in the Round, to write about this trans-Atlantic version of the Hogarth based The Rake's Progress. At Covent Garden, the sung text and surtitles remain unaltered fromthe original Auden/Kallman libretto, which speaks of rural England and the sordid delights and perils of London.

Ashman's inexpensive coups de théatre in Blackheath, fresh in our minds, are so much more telling than Lepage's gimmicks, including an inflatable caravan and a Hollywood poolside auction, that it proved impossible for us to get onto the latter's wavelength.

Adés' conducting has been much criticised (Thomas Adès's conducting loves the music almost to a standstill - The Guardian) but from side stalls circle one could watch the precision of his beat and moulding of the music - the real trouble, we thought, is that it got softened by the orchesta pit and the work's unsuitability for a large opera house with its huge stage to try to fill... Top professional singers and a superb opera house orchestra had nothing however on eager college students stretched to their utmost in South East London.

There is a range of opinion to choose amongst to be found on TheOperaCritic and a DVD of the Lepage version at Brussels to be bought, so I'll leave The Rake's Progress this year with a fervent hope that Trinity College can be persuaded to revive their Rake in the Round and to film it.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Mike Ashman's lecture “Semper fidelis” – Fidelity to the Composer

See also Serena Fenwick's appreciation of the Lepage DVD


Rake Auction photo: Bill Cooper