The Willson Theater upstairs (third floor) of the Juilliard School has a lovely acoustic. Properly trained voices sound fresh and promising here, though some of course sound more promising than others. The Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts does an opera or two here every year, and they’re seldom overfamiliar repertory.
This weekend, they’re giving Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in a version created by conductor Mark Shapiro (“et alii,” he says) for two pianos (and harpsichord continuo), with the chorus scenes removed. (The third and last performance is Sunday afternoon. I attended on Friday evening.) Three of the parts were double cast, director Louisa Muller making some remark in the program about showing different sides of the character.
I don’t believe her. I believe she had two sopranos, two tenors and two basses to display and couldn’t find a single opera that would make proper use of all of them. So two couples bow to each other just before it starts, and then we have no trouble accepting that this one used to be that one.
The opera will be given four times at the end of the Met season with full orchestra and chorus in Jonathan Miller’s elegant staging, and it’s often among the best (though least heralded) items in any Met season in which it appears.
But Muller’s very different direction on a unit set is a fine small-scale contrast, young voices ringing out Stravinsky’s witty melodies at close quarters gives great pleasure if you are fond of this witty score and its many parodies of early operatic cliché and, in Auden and Kallman’s libretto, its satires on 18th-century self-help philosophy.
Tom Rakewell was divided between Cesar Andres Parreño and Patrick Bessenbacher. Both possessed all the necessary notes, the former with a not unattractive vibrato, the latter with a forceful leading-man’s gallant presence.
Ann Truelove fell to Hyeyoung Moon, a stiff actress but with a lovely lyric soprano, melting and delicately hued, and very decent coloratura for the big arias. Jaye Simmons, the other Ann, seemed more assured on stage but with a less striking voice.
Jarrett Porter sang the first few scenes of Nick Shadow with ideal, that is superfluous, dignity and polish, but Evan Lazdowski, who took the graveyard confrontation, did so with a steely panache, character in each cynical tone and hypocritical gesture, and a dark, determined bass-baritone that I am eager to hear again.
Maggie Reneé, a tall woman with a sizable mezzo, proud of every one of her tresses, both cranial and facial, moved amiably through Baba the Turk’s music—where I could have wished her a bit more flamboyant. Matthew Sobelman sang Squire Truelove ably.