Opera Scotland

Rake in the tavern

Rake's Progress in Scotland

Posted 25 Feb 2012

As Scottish Opera's new production comes closer, we can look at past performances in Scotland.   The illustration to the left shows one of Hogarth's famous engravings in the series the Rake's Progress, The Tavern Scene.  

Stravinsky's  opera was premiered in in Venice, then seen in New York and Vienna.  The first ever performance in the UK was given at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival on 25 August 1953, by Glyndebourne Opera.

The reception seems to have been mixed, some people not thinking it modern enough and others simply disliking the idea of contemporary opera, even with its 18th century dressing.  Elsie Morison and Richard Lewis sang Anne and Tom, with the American bass Jerome Hines as Shadow, and the great Scottish character tenor Murray Dickie as the auctioneer Sellem.

In 1967, the focus of the Edinburgh International Festival centred on the work of Stravinsky, with the composer himself due to attend.  It was therefore seen as quite a distinction that Scottish Opera were invited to perform Rake's Progress - the company's first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival.  Tom was Alexander Young, the composer's own choice for the recording made a couple of years previously.   The Dundee soprano, Elizabeth Robson, sang Anne. 

In 1969, Sadler's Wells took the Rake on tour throughout the UK, enabling Glasgow and Aberdeen to see the opera for the first time, as well as Edinburgh.   Roderick Brydon conducted, with Gregory Dempsey as Tom,  Raimund Herincx as Shadow and Ann Howard as Baba.

In 1971, the second Scottish Opera staging had to be put together quickly when it was found that the 1967 sets were not usable.  David Pountney was a young staff producer barely out of university, and he created an imaginative, witty (and cheap) staging which introduced modern elements for the first time - Baba was silenced under a large commercial hair dryer!  Alexander Young returned, as did Peter van der Bilt as Shadow, and Johanna Peters added Baba to the Mother Goose she had sung in 1967.

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