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Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Review: The Rake’s Progress at Milton Keynes Theatre


The 2021 Glyndebourne Tour reached Milton Keynes last night (10 November 2021) with a performance of The Rake’s Progress. This was the start of a three-night residency at the town’s theatre by the world-renowned opera company.

The Rake’s Progress was my first opera, and I had to look up the difference between operas and musicals.

I found that, basically, in a musical the singing is interspersed with passages of speaking. But with an opera, the singing never stops (in the most part).

This constant singing was an issue for me. I tried to be open-minded and to enjoy the experience of trying something new, but I really needed more breaks between the singing. More on that later.

The Rake’s Progress is an English-language opera from 1951, and is Igor Stravinsky‘s only full-length opera. It is performed in three acts and an epilogue.

The libretto (text) was written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman and is based loosely on eight paintings and engravings by William Hogarth A Rake’s Progress (1733–1735).

The story is about Tom Rakewell, who deserts Anne Trulove for the delights of London in the company of Nick Shadow, who turns out to be the Devil. After several misadventures, all initiated by the devious Shadow, Tom ends up in Bedlam.

The moral of the tale is: “For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds work to do.”

The stage design is by David Hockney, and is my favourite part of the production. He used a limited colour palette of red, blue, green, black and white. The sets, costumes and props have bold and crosshatched lines from the original etchings.

I think the combination of the costumes and the sets are just striking and well worth seeking out online.

The design works so well in Act 3 Scene 1, when a crowd flocks to Tom’s house for an auction of the contents. This scene has so much going on and the design is just outstanding. But it is easy to miss the actions and interactions of various characters on the stage.

I could watch this scene again and again (with or without the singing) and still find it mesmerising.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the other scenes as enjoyable.

I did like the score, and, to me, it sounded note perfect. But my head couldn’t handle the combination of singing and music, it appeared at times that they were projecting different moods.

But, as I said, this was my first opera and I don’t know the ‘rules’. I was told that perhaps The Rake’s Progress isn’t the ideal first opera.

Would I see it again? Probably, but only after experiencing a few more operas so that I really understand what’s going on.


Remaining Performances:

Handel’s Messiah: Thu 11 November 2021 at 7:15pm

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale: Fri 12 November 2021 at 7:15pm

Tickets: From £13*

Online Booking: ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes*

*Fees may apply


John Guinn attended as a guest of Milton Keynes Theatre [added 13/11/2021]

John Guinn
I am the editor of The Flitwick Chronicle. This is an independent, local news service based in Bedfordshire. The Chronicle provides local news that is investigative, inclusive and relevant to the residents of Flitwick.

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