[Met Performance] CID:161960
United States Premiere

In the presence of the composer
The Rake's Progress {1} Matinee Broadcast ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/14/1953., Broadcast
 (United States Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
February 14, 1953 Matinee Broadcast
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
United States Premiere
In the presence of the composer


Tom Rakewell............Eugene Conley
Anne Trulove............Hilde Güden
Nick Shadow.............Mack Harrell
Baba the Turk...........Blanche Thebom
Trulove.................Norman Scott
Mother Goose............Martha Lipton
Sellem..................Paul Franke
Keeper..................Lawrence Davidson

Conductor...............Fritz Reiner

Director................George Balanchine
Designer................Horace Armistead

The Rake's Progress received six performances this season.

Review of Virgil Thomson in The New York Herald Tribune:

Returning to Igor Stravinsky's latest opera, "The Rakes's Progress." which received its first American production on Saturday, February 14, at the Metropolitan Opera House. the musical production, made under Fritz Reiner's direction, with constant counsel from the composer, was surely, at least from the instrumental point of view, definitive. From the vocal point of view it was also virtually perfect, though the singers were not, as a cast of singers never is, uniformly powerful in dramatic impersonation.

Mack Harrell, as Nick Shadow, the devil-valet, gave us everything-fine vocalism, fine verbal clarity and a strong projection of character. Eugene Conley, as the Rake, sang angelically and did a lot with his words, too, though I suspect that he could have done more if he had been less preoccupied with vocal resonance. More color and less loudness might have added a welcome variety to his part and would surely have helped him to differentiate vowel sounds. He did, however, articulate the wide vocal skips without going off pitch and gave to his difficult role a musicianly reading infinitely agreeable. If his somewhat sedate temperament was none to convincing in the role of a wild young man, it is not easy to think of an English-language tenor who would have done better dramatically while doing half so well vocally.

Hilde Güden, as the faithful sweetheart, was equally handsome vocally but verbally almost a complete loss, since her English diction is of the sketchiest. Its fault is not her German accent, which nobody, I am sure, would greatly mind if she pronounced with more confidence. She simply did not project either vowels or consonants. And since the role of Anne Trulove, a sort of Micaela, is dramatically one-dimensional, its only hope for audience sympathy lies in a full exploitation of the musical and poetic beauties of its formal arias. Musical beauty Miss Güden gave us to the full; for this she was ideally cast. But the words seemed quite beyond her present powers of English enunciation. From an acting point of view she was a bit dull, too; mostly she just stood around, and always in the same dress.

The rest of the cast, including the chorus, both sang and pronounced to perfection. If Blanche Thebom, as the Bearded Lady, did not quiet make us believe in her, she looked handsome at least. I am not sure, anyway, that the part can or should be played by an attractive woman. I suspect, it needs to be thought of less literally and more as a female impersonation. Its vocal line is written that way. Mother Goose, the madam of the bordello, on the other hand, though admirably sung by Martha Lipton would have profited by a more sympathetic womanly treatment in gesture and costume. Neither of these personages (and they are the only ones for whom the Rake is shown as actually have any sexual penchant) seems in the present production quite glamorous enough to have held him long in London.

As for George Balanchine's direction of the stage action, this writer is one who admires it deeply. Its model is frankly that of the Italian nineteenth-century operatic stage. The great choreographer has not tried to show off in the modern German way by making his crowd scenes mill; nor has he sought to emulate the realistic French opera by encouraging his singers to act. He has treated "The Rake" as a sound director treats "Don Giovanni" or "Lucia di Lammermoor," both of which it resembles as a dramatico-musical conception. His aim has been invisibility for the director; he has kept his soloists static during their arias and in the set-pieces. And he has frankly (and ever so skillfully) moved his chorus down-stage for the big ensembles. He has made the story clear, placed all the vocal elements of the music for the greatest acoustical advantage and then simply kept out of the way. The result has been, in my judgment, a most distinguished operatic stage presentation.

I regret that Horace Armistead's scenery and costumes, though skillfully enough imagined, have not the distinction of Balanchine's stage movements, of the text by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman or of Igor Stravinsky's powerful score. Their Georgian houses, both inside and out, look far more like the twentieth-century imitations of Georgian style at Harvard College than like the real Georgian building we all know, even at Harvard College. And the asylum called Bedlam, which could be used any night for the Spanish prison in "Fidelio." is straight out of Piranesi by way of Appia. The spring-landscape back-drop in Scene 1 seems to me quite pretty, and fairly so does the graveyard scene. The costumes, I am sure, could have been hired as effectively from Eaves and Brooks, so casually do their colors compare with the scenery.

As for the perfection of the instrumental and vocal ensemble in this production, words fail me. The impeccable Fritz Reiner, who conducted, and the composer, who knew what he wanted, backed by the first-class musical resources and efficient (ever so efficient) backstage organization of the Metropolitan, have given us a musico-dramatic production as nearly definitive as any I have heard in my lifetime. I only regret that the scenery was, in my judgment, not up to the rest of it. And if the soprano and tenor leads were not for all their musical excellence, stage personalities of the highest dramatic power, the opera itself has a striking beauty, a delicate beauty, a vivid style and, I suspect, a subtle, hidden strength all its own. But that I must save for next week, since again I am at the end of my space.

Rebroadcast on Sirius Metropolitan Opera Radio

Photograph of Igor Stravinsky and Hilde Güden rehearsing The Rake's Progress.
Photograph of Mack Harrell as Nick Shadow in The Rake's Progress by Sedge LeBlang

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