Opera review: ‘The Rake’s Progress’ is a milestone for Utah Opera

First Published      Last Updated May 12 2015 08:37 pm

Review » Stravinsky’s devilish fable is heaven for opera lovers.

The music of Igor Stravinsky and the poetry of W.H. Auden, dressed up in David Hockney's iconic storybook sets and costumes: Utah Opera's season-closing production of "The Rake's Progress," which opened its weeklong run Saturday at the Capitol Theatre, is opera heaven.

Tenor Norman Reinhardt was riveting in the central role of Tom Rakewell on opening night. Not only did he make Stravinsky's challenging music sound as natural as casual speech, he gave a poignant portrayal of Tom's character arc through his singing and acting. Reinhardt packed a whole scene's worth of meaning into a single word — "Why?" — in his breakfast scene with Baba the Turk and won the audience's sympathy even when the character was behaving badly.

Soprano Joélle Harvey, the embodiment of virtue as Anne Trulove, sang with clarity and sensitivity. She commanded the stage in the stunning scene in which Anne sets off to rescue Tom, but was even more compelling in the quietly heartbreaking scene in which she bids him farewell for good. Baritone Mark Schnaible brought strong musicianship and twisted humor to the role of the devilish Nick Shadow. And mezzo Jill Grove all but stole the show with her bold, sassy and ultimately warm-hearted portrayal of the bearded lady, Baba the Turk. Baba has some of the most wildly virtuosic music in the opera, and Grove sang it with irresistible panache.

Tenor Tyson Miller, a delightful comedian, made a strong impression in his brief turn as the wacky auctioneer Sellem. Also giving solid performances were Branch Fields as Father Trulove, Alissa Anderson as Mother Goose and William Tvrdik as the Keeper of the Madhouse. Caleb Harris' Utah Opera Chorus gave energetic, vivid portrayals of the employees and patrons of Mother Goose's brothel, the enthusiastic auction attendees and the asylum inmates.

Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer could scarcely have chosen a better vehicle for his Utah Opera debut. Stravinsky's score includes some astonishingly beautiful writing for woodwinds, and the Utah Symphony musicians — sitting higher than usual for maximum impact, thanks to the new technological capabilities of the Capitol Theatre pit — played it with vibrancy. The strings and brass also shone, particularly in the gorgeous nocturnal scenes.

Roy Rallo's deft directorial touch was especially evident in the brothel scene, which he staged with as much discretion as the libretto allows.



Raking it in

Utah Opera closes its season with Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress.” Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer conducts in his Utah Opera debut. The opera is sung in English, with supertitles.

When » Reviewed Saturday, May 9; continues May 11, 13 and 15 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee May 17

Where » Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $18 to $95 ($5 more on performance day; discounts available for students and those under 30); utahopera.org

Running time » 3 hours and 15 minutes, including two intermissions

In a nutshell » A lazy young man makes a Faustian deal with a shady stranger. Debauchery ensues.

Learn more » Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson will lecture an hour before curtain, and company artistic director Christopher McBeth will field questions after each performance. In addition, the company has posted several background essays (with musical examples) at utahopera.org/index.php/watch-listen-learn/online-learning-courses .