This December, Gothenburg audiences enjoyed a duel premiere: the first performances of Equilibrium Young Artists and the opera conducting debut of Barbara Hannigan.
The Rake’s Progress
Gothenburg Symphony Vocal Ensemble
Gothenburg Concert Hall
Barbara Hannigan conductor
Linus Fellbom staging and lighting
Willam Morgan Tom Rakewell
Aphrodite Patoulidou Anne Trulove
John Taylor Ward Nick Shadow
Kate Howden Baba the Turk
Erik Rosenius Father Truelove
Ziad Nehme Sellem
photos: Mats Bäcker
“Opera conductor Barbara Hannigan triumphs with the “The Rake’s Progress” in Göteborg in an original new concept.”
“Α charming young and vibrant “Rake’s Progress” performed by the sweetest voices where Aphrodite Patoulidou’s incisive golden lustrous soprano voice makes Anne Truelove the show’s shimmering focus.”
“In her simple, bare-sleeved dress, Hannigan is exciting and endlessly enjoying making music. As soon as music is reduced to cembalo accompaniment, she turns around and becomes a part-time spectator. The scenic playfulness that characterizes Fellbom’s staging also removes all sorts of distances that are often accompanied by this opera. Here is a naturalness and a seriousness… ”
“There is an idea that opera is somewhat spectacular and extravagant. Opera by definition is madness.
… Then you go and see The Rake’s Progress (1951) by Igor Stravinsky at the Gothenburg Concert Hall with Canadian soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan, her hand-picked soloists, the Gothenburg Symphony and a black box. Three performances, that’s all before moving on to a new orchestra and a new concert hall. Yet this is what I call the correct opera. Young singers from all over Europe have auditioned for these roles. None of them is a so-called “world singer”. But everyone shines with a specific shine.
The soprano Aphrodite Patouldou, as a rare and wonderful Anne Trulove, tenor William Morgan, is completely convincing as the ever-destroying Tom. Mezzo-soprano Kate Howden as Baba the Turk brings great human depth to the role, which often becomes a caricature. And the barbarian John Taylor Ward as the devil himself Nick Shadow, plastic, orthodox, hard-to-get. Everyone is on stage all the time in Linus Fellbom’s concentrated staging.
When William Morgan sings “Love too frequently betrayed”, already totally lost in London’s whorehouse, it is with real sadness in the voice. And when Patoulidou sings the famous scene “No word from Tom” the tears continue to flow – along my cheeks.
I also want to mention something about the choir, Gothenburg Symphony vocal ensemble, outstanding presence, wonderful sound, bite in diction. As well as Anna Ardelius’s costume, undefinable in time, all but Tom in full-length black skirt fabric. The scenography, the opened black box where Nick Shadow is firmly chained – Linus Fellbom’s effective light.
And last but not least – Barbara Hannigan, whose spirit, aesthetics, musicality and energy characterize the whole set. This is her first opera in the role of conductor and the will that everyone in this set radiates can not be missed. Opera is not standing still. It may not move forward, but it goes deep like this, and with as relatively simple means as a black box, it can survive.”
“The set of Gothenburg Symphony is in the concert hall format – or semi-staged as it is usually called – meaning that the singers are on the same stage as the orchestra. In the direction of Linus Fellbom, a box has been laid out with exposed walls, giving the set a simple and stylish expression, in stark contrast to how other sets of opera used to look like. Hannigan’s first major opera role was also Anne Trulove in the The Rake’s Progress, which now also becomes the first opera she directs.
Stravinsky’s music is playful, quick and moving, and full of fast shifts. There is a lot going on in the orchestra, in addition to the recitals to cembalo and great driving efforts, yet everything is falling naturally and of course. The orchestra sound is full and resilient, and gives a more pastoral mood to the stricter scenography.
The act takes place in the 18th century and features elements of both Faust and Charles Perrault. The devil in the drama is not called Mefistofeles but Nick Shadow (John Taylor Ward) and is pale and blonde with a long chain around the foot. With charm and a warm, seductive voice, he manipulates Tom’s young mind to do what he wants. Tom is, as I said, not bad really, but naive and unfaithful – even when he was forced to marry the more hot-tempered, bearded Baba (Kate Howden). One of the show’s great vocal performance, however, is one of the story’s perhaps more one-dimensional characters: the sacrificing Anne Trulove (Aphrodite Patoulidou) who tired of waiting, heads out to find Tom. Her aria of the inevitable nature of true love belongs to one of the most intense moments of the show.”
The Rake’s Progress is a drama of life and death
In The Rake’s Progress grows a unique mixture of Faust and Don Juan. Stravinsky’s genius opera slowly and surely gets all the roles to resonate.
When the Gothenburg concert hall turns into an opera performance, a special arrangement is required. A wonderfully prepared a “black box” has been made to accompany the upcoming tour. In its unfoldable version, it lets us look into a dusty history from the 18th century London. Stravinsky accomplished his last neoclassical work in Venice in 1951, and to Stockholm it came ten years later in a notorious set of Ingmar Bergman.
Conductor Barbara Hannigan, who is also well-known in Gothenburg as a soprano, took the orchestra on a fabulous adventure
With William Morgan in the title role, we hear an eloquent tenor. Aphrodite Patoulidou beautifully sings Anne Trulove’s aria in the first act, raising expectations for her big scene in the second act. And then it happens. Elegantly and dramatically, she hits her high C, and I shiver.
Actually, it is remarkable that, with so little sets and props, one can still get the work’s drama to vibrate as both a tragic and absurd comedy.”
“Today, many women are performing as conductors. But Canadian Barbara Hannigan is undeniably unique with her dual career: an acrobatic high soprano singing difficult roles, even doing the splits and in pointe shoes. And now Hannigan has a third career, the project Equilibrium, where she leads performances and coaches young singers. As now, with Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in the Gothenburg Concert Hall.
Barbara Hannigan is one of the music world’s darlings and Gothenburg Symphony recognized that early on.
When the opera is played in the concert hall, the music is the focus… Barbara Hannigan presents an unusual sensualism from this Stravinsky opera.
I believe in this combination of opera and symphony orchestra. The concert hall needs to open up for more than just symphonies. Artists should become more of their own organizers.”
Ojai Music Festival blog
Thomas W. Morris, 13 December 2018
“The production was over the top in its power and meaning, and the singing and acting by the unique Gothenburg cast from EQ simply the best I have ever heard in this opera, both individually and also as an ensemble. … The sheer energy, ensemble and vocal art of all of these young performers was totally captivating. The audience rose to its feet at the end in loud cheers each night. Reviews have been ecstatic. And above it all, Barbara Hannigan’s mastery of the score, her incisive conducting and her electrifying presence gave coherent shape, energy and power to the whole score.”