Who knows – this potted version of The Rake’s Progress, produced by Blackheath Halls Opera, might just start a fashion for similarly abbreviated online versions of operas. Directed by James Hurley, with Christopher Stark in charge of the musical side, it renders down Stravinsky’s neoclassical score to just 45 minutes, and for anyone like me, who has a blind spot where the virtues of The Rake’s Progress are concerned, that’s a bit of a plus in itself.
Hurley and Stark were certainly merciless in the way they tackled their editing task. Even the rake, Tom, sung with beautifully even tone by Nicky Spence, gets only the bare minimum of his music and Anne Trulove, Francesca Chiejina, gets even less of hers. There’s little opportunity for either to put much flesh on their character, and the inevitable gaps in the story are filled by spoken narrations from Ashley Riches’ sardonic Nick Shadow. Zoom-like mosaics of the orchestra and chorus (Blackheath Halls Orchestra and Chorus, with the Royal Greenwich and Blackheath Halls Youth Choir) suggest that they were performing remotely, though moments of interaction between the soloists show that at least some of the scenes were recorded face-to-face.
But it’s all put together rather unevenly, especially when compared with the slickness of some of the new opera shorts produced remotely as part of the Opera Harmony project a couple of months ago. This Rake veers between crisply professional and deliberately rough-edged sections, as if filmed on a phone, though that’s less distracting than the frequent lack of synchronisation between what one hears and what one sees of the singers, who presumably are miming to a previously recorded soundtrack.
With the action updated to the present day, some scenes work better than others – the auction of Tom’s possessions (which include Kitty Whately’s goateed Baba the Turk) as an online event, with James Way as Sellem the auctioneer, is particularly neatly done. But the final scene, with Tom in Bedlam, lacks any pathos, so what heart there is in WH Auden and Chester Kallman’s libretto is missing altogether. If in the end it doesn’t quite work, there’s no doubt of the enterprise and ingenuity behind the project.