Opera Magazine review of The Rake's Progress

Running the full 20-metre length of the exquisite beamed barn that is home to Bury Court Opera was a catwalk, with banked seating for the audience down either side. Was this particular progress going to take the form of a fashion show? In the event, Aylin Bozok’s darkly glamorous production was not constrained by a single extended metaphor, but it drew strongly on her fascination with symbols and ritual – so central to the haunting Pelléas et Mélisande she staged in 2013 at both the Grimeborn Festival and Bury Court. The fateful presence of playing cards, for instance, was not restricted to the Graveyard Scene, and Anne’s hand mirror, which in the first scene reflected her naively smug contentment, later served to shed light on Tom’s situation.

Designer Friedrich Eggert placed large gilded picture frames at either end of the catwalk, one the proscenium of a small stage, the other the gateway to a wide-stepped podium. The full performing space was used to spectacular effect in the auction scene, superbly choreographed by movement director Ozer Ercan. The exuberant, rich-voiced Sellem of Leonel Pinheiro, a ringmaster sporting a gold top hat, and the members of the sharply-drilled chorus of 12 – all identically kitted out in black (lace shirts, lipstick, nail varnish and thick-framed glasses) – frantically took bids over old-style telephones.

After this chilly organised mayhem, the surprisingly tender encounter between Anne and the newly-revived Baba became perhaps the most touching moment of the performance. It helped that Rhonda Browne’s stately – and beardless – Baba, resplendent in gold from head to toe, was played and sung with both dignity and panache. Despite her prom queen outfit, Madeleine Pierard made a womanly rather than girlish Anne; her singing remains as cleanly contoured as in her days on Covent Garden’s Jette Parker programme, but her tone has gained in pearly lustre. Her Tom, Andrew Dickinson, brought a compelling visceral energy to both his singing and acting, and his transition from wide-eyed innocent to delusional inmate was harrowingly convincing. Simon Lobelson’s dapper lounge lizard of a Nick Shadow – himself shadowed by two silent accomplices, one male, one female (Jon Shaw and Ada Burke) – exuded subtle menace, even if the part lies a little low for his juicy baritone. Rosie Aldridge, decked out in shimmering bronze, made a powerful impact as Mother Goose – not least with her pungent delivery of the text – while Oliver Hunt offered a sober, severe Trulove.

The musical component of this intimate, but ambitious production was in the hands of Simon Over. Though corralled into a corner of the barn, the Southbank Sinfonia (one string player to a part) suffused the entire space with its refined, luminous playing. If the decision to cut the concluding, moralising ensemble deprived the audience of a sense of release – and the piece of its ultimate irony – it placed the final emphasis on Tom and his personal tragedy rather than on the glitzy, but disturbingly passionless world to which his aspirations had led him.

Yehuda Shapiro

for Opera magazine