In The Rake’s Progress, Tom Rakewell is seduced by a devil in disguise whose promise of easy wealth sends Tom on a path of self-destruction. Along the way, he deserts the woman who loves him, loses a fortune in a brothel, marries a bearded lady and winds up in Bedlam. Igor Stravinsky’s opera and its libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman draw from 18th century visual, literary and musical sources, but College-Conservatory of Music director Robin Guarino sees no problem locating the story in a modern time frame.
“We wanted to find a place where that kind of thing could happen, and the ’70s, with its excesses and irresponsible attitudes, was a good place for a rogue like Tom who wants it all,” Guarino says. “We also didn’t want to soften the sense of urban excess, be that drugs, sex or violence. What’s important is telling the story of Tom and his journey.”
The journey marks an important technical milestone for CCM. The Rake’s Progress is the first production using digital projections as part of the scenic design. The projections, their design and implementation are student creations under the supervision of Peter DePietro, assistant professor of electronic media. It’s also the first time CCM’s E-Media department has joined a production team.
Collaboration is Guarino’s mantra and she was eager to work with DePietro, who shares her commitment to finding new ways to engage audiences and mentor students. An award-winning web designer, interactive media artist and game developer, DePietro is also a playwright with nine plays published by Samuel French, Inc., and served as producing artistic director for the Manhattan Rep Company.
Meshing digital media with performances is a finely tuned balancing act. “How do we integrate visual media onstage to support the performance and not distract?” says DePietro. “We’re moving in a direction like architecture: Make sure it all balances and then we put it onstage.”
“We tried very hard to serve the narrative,” he continues. “There are a lot of visual styles, and what connects them is channel surfing, something the audience will see at the top of the show.”
A stylized vision of the road taken by each character is another important element. “When Tom starts his journey, it’s a hot, red vision contrasted with his sweetheart Anne’s vision of blues and greens. At the end of Tom’s road, we travel through a tunnel that ends in a white light.”
The E-Media Division, the Department of Opera and CCM’s Dean’s Office jointly funded the purchase of Watchout, a digital media production and delivery system. DePietro says the system provides the flexibility needed to change cues and make adjustments once the onstage rehearsals begin.
Three E-Media students are also cast members “playing themselves,” Guarino says, adding, “These guys don’t need direction. They’re amazing!”
The huge collaboration goes beyond E-Media, and Guarino proudly notes that “all the elements are student built: the projections, costumes, wigs, lighting and sound design. This has never been done before.”
The level of student involvement is giving the show a buzz around CCM, says stage manager Adam Moser, a CCM senior. “People are really excited about the work they’re doing and especially about working across departments.”
The opera’s double cast features outstanding CCM singers. Daniel Ross and Dashiell Waterbury share the role of the dissolute rake Tom, Jacqueline Echols and Meghan Tarkington are Tom’s sweetheart Anne Trulove, while Charles Z. Owen and Hunter Enoch portray the sinister Nick Shadow who leads Tom down the road to ruin.
Stravinsky openly admitted that he used Mozart’s operas as the basis for his own musical language in TRP; he even called himself “Mozart’s continuer.” The score is more of a pastiche with hints of Haydn, Beethoven, Verdi and Tchaikovsky, but Stravinsky is no stencil composer. Tom and Anne’s opening duet is enchanting, irony never sounded better than in Baba the Turk’s monologue and Anne’s aria declaring her love for Tom is a masterpiece.
The Rake’s Progress promises to be the first of what CCM staff hope will be regular interactive performances. Visual media is here to stay, says DePietro, and a tech-savvy public expects it in their theater experiences. “That’s what I love about the theater,” he says. “We bring all these components together and work the magic.”
CCM presents THE RAKE'S PROGRESS Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Corbett Auditorium. Tickets: 513-556-4183.