Emmanuel Church acoustics can be dicy, so it was smart to hand out the entire scintillating libretto, in which W.H. Auden and his life partner, poet Chester Kallman, take off from William Hogarth's series of paintings that follow a shallow young man's precipitous moral decline: "Always the quarry that I stalk/Fades or evades me, and I walk/An endless hall of chandeliers/In light that blinds, in light that sears." The "semi-staging" was wittily minimal: characters entering down the main aisle, a lithe Boston Conservatory dancer turning into the machine that turns stones into bread, the rake's possessions auctioned from the pulpit.
Two of the leads repeated their accomplished performances from 2003. Baritone David Kravitz, as Nick Shadow, the Devil, was in even fuller, rounder voice, the embodiment of sly, elbow-in-the-ribs Evil. And tenor Frank Kelley owns the role of Sellem, the quick-tongued auctioneer. Mezzo-soprano Mary Westbrook Geha happily returned to Emmanuel as the pathetic Baba the Turk, the bearded lady Tom Rakewell lovelessly marries. Soprano Kristen Watson, the devoted Anne Trulove, started shakily, even inaudibly, but found clear sailing once she nailed the famous high C at the end of her big first-act aria of determination. And tenor Charles Blandy as Rakewell, surely his most challenging role, made his unusual, slightly edgy and stentorian voice part of his character and never flagged, his final descent into madness all the more poignant for the absence of merely pretty vocalism.
Bass-baritone Paul Guttry was a sympathetic Trulove, Deborah Rentz-Moore a flirtatious Mother Goose (the brothel owner), and Donald Wilkinson a kind madhouse keeper. As whores, roaring boys, and inmates, John Ehrlich's Spectrum Singers had fun but sounded a little woofy.
Even more than the soloists, Turner and the Emmanuel Orchestra stole the show with their refinement and wit — a neat balancing act that kept the music at once sincere (those ravishing winds!) and parodic (a horn solo ripped from a Mozart horn concerto). I wondered whether moving into the 20th century, with a work that Craig Smith, the late founder of Emmanuel Music, had wanted badly to do, might fail to attract a large audience. But the church was packed and cheering, many hearing Stravinsky's exquisite and mysterious score for the first time.
The BSO hasn't had such good luck. After Levine's cancellations, Sir Colin Davis, also for health reasons, bowed out of his two scheduled programs, his absence requiring two new conductors and some repertoire changes. The German-born music director of the Canadian Opera, Johannes Debus, led a delightful Haydn/Mozart concert, the highlight of which was the central Adagio of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, his last major completed work. BSO principal clarinet William R. Hudgins gave this movement particular grace and dynamic nuance, as if it were some plaintive lost aria from Figaro. The following week, tousle-haired French conductor Stéphane Denève led the gifted young pianist Jonathan Biss in a square, uneventful Beethoven Emperor Concerto that no one seemed excited to be playing. But the orchestra sprang to life in Roussel's edgy, rarely heard Symphony No. 3, a 1930 BSO commission (Denève told the audience that he and Roussel were from the same town), and a rip-roaring if not exactly subtle, fin du monde Ravel La valse.