Robert Lepage's Hollywood-themed Rake's Progress returns to Covent Garden no more impressive than it was first time round, so I won't bother describing it in any detail again. The concept - fame corrupts - is superficially interesting. But it sits awkwardly atop the Londonian specificities of the libretto, and the production remains constricted by its static tableaux, a substitute for real dramatic action.
All its wow-factor technical gimmicks can't disguise a lack of depth. Of course that's a criticism you could level at almost any Lepage venture. Intellectual profundity is neither his aim nor his result. He's the 21st century Zeffirelli - overwhelm the audience with spectacle, and hope they don't peer any deeper.
In his theatrical work, an emotional resonance compensates. It can make his best efforts utterly compelling. But in the theatre his actors pretty much devise their own performances from scratch. Not here of course. In opera you have to work with what you're given - a fixed text and performers whose training is more musical than theatrical. This production's characters and situations lack sympathy, empathy - any kind of fellow-feeling at all. And I don't blame the singers, because it was exactly the same last time round, with a different cast. The revival 'direction' seems to have done no more than reproduce the original blocking.
Ingo Metzmacher's pacing, perhaps dictated by the technical demands of the projections and sets, seemed as sluggish as Tom Ades's had in the first run. And in deference to the placement of the singers frequently miles upstage, the volume was far too low. It's telling that the haunting solo harpsichord accompaniment to the graveyard scene had more impact than any of the more complex and clever writing. The clarity of the orchestral sound was perhaps its greatest strength.
The singers seemed bathed in an air of defeat from the first note, though Rosemary Joshua's Welsh-inflected Anne Trulove battled hard to win hearts. Toby Spence undoubtedly has the voice for Tom Rakewell, but he too often lacked focus and, more surprisingly, projection, only really coming to life towards the end in the graveyard scene. Kyle Ketelsen's Nick Shadow and Patricia Bardon's Baba the Turk were decently sung, but strangely muted and anonymous presences. Even Frances McCafferty's Mother Goose - surely a gift of a role for a singer of McCafferty's vocal power and physical dimensions - lacked the expected impact.
The general impression was a lack of confidence, despite a surprisingly enthusiastic audience who laughed and gasped at the visual trickery and couldn't wait to applaud at every possible opportunity. Perhaps this production will come together more as the run progresses, but at the moment it's considerably less than the sum of its well-cast parts.
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