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Theatre Royal, Glasgow

David McVicar's return to Scottish Opera also marks the fulfilment of his long-held ambition to stage The Rake's Progress. The attraction is understandable: Stravinsky's acerbic, Hogarthian parable about money and corruption mixes tradition with transgression, which also form the basis of McVicar's directorial style.

Most recent productions have relocated the work to the late 20th century. McVicar, however, retains the 18th-century setting and pointedly emphasises Stravinsky's use of the conceits of Baroque opera to distance his audience on occasion from his subject. John Macfarlane's set, dominated by the bare outline of a wooden stage, keeps us aware of the work's mechanics. But the theatricals of life must end in death, as an expressionist skeleton painted on the drop cloths reminds us.

The resulting stylised cool allows McVicar to be at once sharp and extreme. Tom's (Edgaras Montvidas) sexual initiation in Mother Goose's brothel, carefully overseen by Steven Page's Nick Shadow, is preceded by a blasphemous communion in which he obscenely nibbles a phallic baguette and drinks wine from a chamber pot. The brothel's clientele consists of a crowd of characters, beautifully realised by Scottish Opera's chorus, who accompany his progress, even to Bedlam. This is not about one man's moral decline but that of an entire society.

It sounds good, too, though the orchestra under Siân Edwards and Carolyn Sampson's radiant Anne took a while to strike form on opening night. Montvidas and Page are outstanding. Page is all dangerous allure and insidious charm, Montvidas dark-voiced and vulnerable: those moments when Stravinsky allows his emotions to penetrate the artifice are simply overwhelming.

Rating: 4/5

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