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Stravinsky The Rake’s Progress

Anne Trulove – Rhona McKail

Baba the Turk – Lilly Papaioannou

Mother Goose – Rosy Aldridge

Tom Rakewell – Nicky Spence

Sellem – Paul Curievici

Nick Shadow – Derek Welton

Trulove – Michael Parle

Madhouse Keeper – Barnaby Rea

Conductor – Peter Roninson

Director – William Kerley

Designer – Willam Fricker

Movement – Mandy Demetriou

Lighting – David Howe


British Youth Opera

Peacock Theatre, London 11 September 2009


The 1951 premiere of this opera at Venice featured some rather wobbly moments; although conducted by the composer, he needed discreet cues from another conductor in the audience to assist the cast and orchestra in coping with this unfamiliar music.  Fifty years or so on, this work presents no real problems to today’s students, who relish the witty libretto with its sly hints at sexual frolics.


William Kerley's production uses contemporary dress and fashions to advantage on a bare stage.  But one disadvantage of this approach is that it loses and the Master and Servant irony contained in Hogarth’s work – its original inspiration, and an important ingredient.


Rakewell was sung by Nicky Spence in a boisterous manner that verged on belligerence – he was more like a BNP candidate than an aspiring banker (but perhaps they are not so different!)  He also played to the audience, something Shadow did too – but he is a character out of time.


Derek Welton sang Shadow with a remarkably sinister voice and the presence to match it.  His first appearance, however, was rather casual when it should have been surprising and chilling – he is not a pantomime devil to utilise trap doors.


At the centre of the performance as Anne Trulove, stood Rhona McKail [pictured] both vocally and dramatically. Her attractive timbre and concern for note values made her the real heroine of the evening.


Lilly Papaioannou displayed a voluptuous voice to match her graceful appearance; for once Baba is not just a caricature.  Paul Curievice, as the Auctioneer also made an impact with his brisk manner and remarkably clear diction.  The chorus participated with enthusiasm, as roaring boys, whores or madmen.


Unfortunately, the director had seen fit to introduce some extraneous figures who added nothing to the dramatic narrative.  They were a distraction and seriously undermined the effect of several scenes, most noticeably in the Bedlam episode.  Whilst Tom uttered his final lines, non-singing “patients” wandered around the front of the stage to no discernable purpose.  It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by his pathetic delusions, but it should have been left to the music to underline his descent into madness.


British Youth Opera has a sensible and efficient production which will please audiences but which perhaps misses a few opportunities to connect with contemporary issues.


Stuart Jenkins