Monday, 30 August 2010

The Rake's Progress, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 29 August 2010

Glyndebourne Opera House

Trulove – Clive Bayley
Anne Trulove – Miah Persson
Tom Rakewell – Topi Lehtipuu
Nick Shadow – Matthew Rose
Mother Goose – Susan Gorton
Baba the Turk – Elena Manistina
Sellem – Graham Clark

John Cox (director)
David Hockney (designs)
Robert Bryan (lighting)

The Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master: Jeremy Bines)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)

There was much to enjoy in this final performance of Glyndebourne’s season. Perhaps first and foremost was the playing of the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, every bit as fine as it had been for Billy Budd in June. The opening scene did not seem quite settled – this went for the singers as well – but thereafter, Jurowski proved highly alert to the score’s changing moods and underlying consistencies. The LPO responded with disciplined yet warm playing: razor-sharp rhythmically, yet more than usually allusive to Mozart. One can play The Rake’s Progress in a number of ways, and Stravinsky’s own polemical sardonicism will surely never be eclipsed, but Jurowski is clearly his own man here, as I recall from a performance a few years ago for the English National Opera. Then it had been Stravinsky’s Russianness, even in this work, that seemed most apparent; here the distanced affection for Mozart’s most tellingly artificial opera shone through. For though Don Giovanni inevitably springs to mind in terms of the subject matter, the orchestra is of course, knowingly, unmistakeably reminiscent of that for Così fan tutte. Stravinsky’s knowingness and Auden’s too are part of what makes this so unique a work: difficult, perhaps impossible, to warm to, but equally difficult not to be intrigued by and to admire.

Quite what the audience thought was so incessantly funny about it, though, even into the graveyard scene, I cannot imagine; it simply took a new or old character to arrive on stage for some to erupt into distracting mirthful commentary. However, this was an even less discerning crowd than usual – as witnessed by applause during the epilogue, a goodly number having failed to register that the music had not stopped. An oddity, though: was Jurowski’s card-playing at the relevant point for his own amusement or ours? I do not think it would have been visible to many, though the view of the orchestra was some compensation for my partial view of the stage from the standing room of the Upper Circle.

Singing was generally impressive too. Following a degree of unsteadiness in that opening scene, Miah Persson’s Anne proved as pure and beautiful of tone as in stage presence. Topi Lehtipuu judged Tom very well: guilelessly attractive, corrupted, and then tragic, without the slightest sense of overdoing it. Matthew Rose’s Nick Shadow was well sung but lacked malevolence, if only of a mock variety. Elena Manistina’s Baba overstated the silly, ‘exotic’ voice earlier on, but excelled in her subsequent babbling. As the characterful auctioneer, Sellem, Graham Clark’s wickedly camp portrayal will take some beating. The singing of the Glyndebourne Chorus, splendidly trained by Jeremy Bines, was beyond reproach, rhythmically and verbally alert.

What, then, of John Cox’s production? Whilst it was interesting to see this venerable creature, first staged in 1975, and I can imagine that many will feel considerable affection for it, it does seem something of a museum piece now. David Hockney’s designs provide a direct link with Hogarth himself, of course, but they are the principal attraction. Whilst the sparkle has worn better than, say, the Texan transposition of Robert Lepage’s Covent Garden production (even on its first revival), I think it might not be a bad idea to call time now. The pauses for scene-changing – after every scene – become wearisome and provide a reminder of how some things at least have changed for the better. Whilst less out of place here than they would be in many works, Stravinsky’s determined non-through-composing being highlighted, the dislocation seems accidental rather than dramaturgical. Still, thirty-five years is good going by any standards.