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‘Rake’s Progress’ at Wolf Trap highlights vocal talent

By Charles T. Downey,

Are Stravinsky’s 20th-century masterpiece “The Rake’s Progress” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” opposite sides of the same coin? That seemed to be the point of Wolf Trap Opera’s pairing of the two operas this summer, both named for self-centered men who leave spurned women in their wake, with the help of servants who take part in their sins. Both men are punished with no hope of escape, abandoned even by the women who tried to deter them from the wrong path.

The summer’s best vocal talent was saved for this welcome production of “The Rake’s Progress,” on Friday night at the Barns. ­Texas-born tenor Eric Barry excelled in the demanding role of Tom Rakewell, in one of the most promising performances by a Wolf Trap young artist in recent memory. Lustrous, puissant high notes never faltered or strained, with clean accuracy of intonation and rhythm, spinning out the baroquified curlicues of Stravinsky’s vocal writing. The Anne Trulove of Corinne Winters, from Frederick, was no less striking, a winsome soprano of rounded richness, with just the right air of angelic innocence.

Mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak, as Mother Goose and Baba the Turk, had a hilariously raucous tone and scenery-chewing antics that nearly stole the show, while Aaron Sorensen’s Father Trulove was mostly lost in larger textures. The Nick Shadow of bass-baritone Craig Colclough did not seem as menacing as his Commendatore in “Don Giovanni,” but this was partially because of his nondescript costume. Character tenor James Kryshak had a funny turn as the auctioneer, and the well-trained chorus (directed by Grant Loehnig), of six men and six women from the Wolf Trap Opera Studio, negotiated the intricacies of the choral scenes and acted well. Dean Williamson led the orchestra in a performance that mostly hung together, with a few stray and wrong notes here and there.

Tara Faircloth directed a simple and elegant production, the twist being that it began with Tom in Bedlam as he would be in the final scene, asleep on the floor while an orderly opened the doors at the back of the stage. This suggested that the action was really the addled memories of the deluded Tom, a cyclic device present in the libretto itself, since references to the goddess Venus are present in the opening and closing scenes. Erhard Rom’s plain set featured designs for neoclassical buildings, with an oversize clock as the heavy-handed symbol of Tom’s borrowed time. Only colored lighting (Robert H. Grimes) and a few prop pieces, including huge playing cards in the second act, signaled the shift between locales, as well as the sometimes extravagant costuming (Rooth Varland).

This performance will be repeated on Saturday.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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