A Failure of Objectivity

If I had a personal blog, this might be the kind of post I’d write. Nothing awfully revealing, as I’m essentially a private person; but more than I’m accustomed to sharing professionally. I do try to cultivate some objectivity about our company and its product, but I think that I’ve lost this particular battle. Rake’s Progress is an oddly intimate affair, and one that touches me deeply.

The Music

It’s all about context, I guess. For me, the big lush romantic operas are too relentlessly emotional. Yes, I know that Mimi and Gilda die, and when they do, it touches me. But Rake’s music is clean, thoughtful, matter-of-fact, and yes, a bit detached when it needs to be. So that when it dives under that surface to communicate an emotional truth, it touches my heart in a way Puccini doesn’t. (If you disagree, and I know many of you will, just shake your head in disbelief and move on. Vive la difference.) When Anne’s hesitation turns to action and her brooding b minor opens up to a rhythmically irresistible C major, I want to cheer out loud: Yes, for God’s sake, go to him! When Sellem and his customers get so caught up in the momentum of the auction, I too want to place a bid for something I’ve never seen. And when Tom, lost in his own mind, is given the brief gift of a lucid moment to make music with Anne the way he always wanted to, I can’t stand it.

The Story

We all lose our way. And every time we make a wrong turn, the danger of buying into a solution that’s too good to be true is real. Enter into a loveless and lurid relationship because it proves we have a shred of self-determination left? Believe that money can fall in our lap and not bring heartbreak? Chase a dream because it seems the only way to redeem ourselves? Tom does all of these things in a fashion that’s just fantastical and story-like to allow us to shake our heads at such a ‘shuttle-headed lad.’ But we do these things. All of us, all of them. Seeing them in front of us in this fable allows enough distance to recognize that.

The Unfolding

OK, so Stravinsky was being neoclassical. Blah blah blah. My musicological side geeks out on that. But in real time, taking this journey is like reading a masterful novel. The ending of each chapter allows us to close a door temporarily and enter a new world with the turn of a page. It doesn’t all spin out in an unbroken thread of narrative, and some people find that artificial. But I love the way each 15-minute episode leaves me in a slightly different place for the next. Having just witnessed Tom’s indiscretions with his new money makes me cheer for Anne as she follows her instinct that something is wrong. Seeing his disbelief in what he has done in marrying Baba makes me believe that Tom would hold onto a shred of hope in something as utterly ridiculous as his bread machine. And spending time with those crazily entertaining people at the auction lets me put down my guard enough to be sucker-punched by what happens next.

The People

Onstage and off.

I see myself in these storybook characters. Father Trulove, who desperately wants to protect his daughter from heartache but can’t. Sellem, who enjoys his job more than anyone I’ve ever seen. Mother Goose, who remembers vividly what it was like to be one of those young women she oversees. Baba, who gives her all, loudly vents her displeasure, and then immediately dusts herself off and moves on without a regret. Even Nick, who enjoys a well-played game, large or small. Anne, who once she believes in someone, will not give up on him. And especially Tom, who learns everything he needs to know at the exact moment it is too late.

And of course, the real people involved make this company what it is. Talented folks, with endless energy, big hearts, and a trademark combination of humility and bravado. It happens in almost every show; this one is no different. But I don’t often remember to remark on it, and I should.

Back to Work

We’ve got paperwork to do, bills to pay, (a preshow lecture to write for tonight…), and emails to write. I don’t know that anyone is going to be able to love this show as much as I do, but if you join us for it, I hope you have a wonderful evening.


John F McDiarmid

What warrant can the Wolftrap Opera possibly claim for totally suppressing the name of Chester Kallman in connection with _The Rake’s Progress_? The program lists the libretto as “by W. H. Auden,” which is untrue. Standard references from Auden’s _Collected Poems_ to the _Britannica Book of Music_ list the work as by Auden and Kallman, and Auden in commenting on it repeatedly referred to the intense collaborative work he and Kallman did.

If Auden had been there he would have been booing loudly, as he was known to do when opera companies did things they shouldn’t.–John McDiarmid

Larz Pearson

What a beautiful and insightful account of the opera! It was an evening of pure magic. And young artists pouring out everything in themselves to make great art. Hope lots of people take the opportunity to experience it.


Mr. McDiarmid – We have no warrant, and we regret this error in our program book. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

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