The Rake's Progress



Snape Maltings

The 59th Aldeburgh Festival opens with style, success and Stravinsky. His Rake's Progress is one of the handful of great operas since Puccini's blood- curdling triumphs, and its libretto is by Wystan Auden. He was a pupil at Gresham's School and became a friend of Benjamin Britten in his early years.

Based on William Hogarth's famous satirical engravings, the tale of a young man's fall from grace has 18th-century echoes and modern resonance. This duality is cleverly brought out in Neil Bartlett's production.

Daniel Grice, the best singer and actor in a youthful cast, is Nick Shadow, the tempting devil who can't be shaken off.

First appearing in knee breeches, tenor Lawrence Jones, who plays Tom Rakewell, switches period as he changes into a 20th-century dinner jacket before being consigned to an asylum in a dowdy dressing gown.

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The visual focus alters all the time. It is also the feature of the wonderfully rich score, conducted by Martyn Brabbins. In challengingly modern music the audience can pick out countless references to operatic techniques from earlier times.

From the orchestra comes an instrumental commentary, most impressively in the prelude to the graveyard scene. The chorus, from the Guildhall School of Music, adds character. So does Megan Latham as Baba.