Stravinsky, The Rake’s Progress

For The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky tonight, Moscow’s Pokrovsky Chamber Opera sung in a Russian translation (from the original English), and used a 1978 staging by the late Boris Pokrovsky himself (the longtime Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Opera back when it was good from 1952-1982, who founded the Moscow Chamber Opera and who died in 2009, after which the Chamber Opera was named after him).

Pokrovsky was a master, and understood drama in a way few directors seem to these days.  The concept of this staging was actually quite simple.  Stravinsky had based the story on a series of paintings by William Hogarth.  So Pokrovsky put enormous picture frames on the stage, which when the drapes were pulled back from each frame revealed one of scenes in the original Hogarth paintings.  The cast emerged from the paintings to act out the scenes, dressed in period costumes from early eighteenth-Century Britain.  The rest of the props were kept simple and suggestive, allowing the cast to act their roles out.

I would imagine that singers can very much enjoy such stagings, since they get to demonstrate their full talents without distractions.  The theater layout was different from the way it had been set up the last time I was there (for Mussorgsky’s Sorochintsy Fair in the Fall) – the room was set up like a typical theater this time.  Although Stravinsky scored this opera for a small classical-sized orchestra, he nevertheless wrote a full opera and having a little more distance between the audience and the stage allowed for better visual and acoustical perspective.  The cast excelled – particularly Olesya Starukhina as Anne Truelove and Borislav Molchanov as Tom Rakewell (although Mochanov’s voice may have been too large for this theater – he often needed but failed to modify his volume).  Igor Gromov kept the whole work moving from the podium.  He seemed humorless, but considering he created the platform to allow the cast to provide the humor, and orchestra and cast sounded excellent, he should get the credit.

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