The Rake’s Progress – Opera in three acts and an epilogue to a libretto by W. H. Auden & Chester Kallman after the artworks of William Hogarth
Anne Trulove – Nardus Williams
Tom Rakewell – Frederick Jones
Father Trulove – Stephen Richardson
Nick Shadow – Sam Carl
Mother Goose – Fiona Kimm
Sellem – Daniel Norman
Baba The Turk – Rosie Aldridge
Keeper of the Madhouse – Jack Sandison
The Glyndebourne Chorus
The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra
John Cox – Director
David Hockney – Designer
Robert Bryan – Lighting Designer
Reviewed by: David Gutman
Reviewed: 23 October, 2021
Venue: Glyndebourne Opera, Lewes, East Sussex, England
Once regarded as the last gasp of a regressive, played-out seam of neoclassicism, Stravinsky’s opera has lately become standard fare, a transformation that must owe something to the success of this benchmark staging, lent to other houses and last seen here in 2010. Its revival this year has added poignancy following the death of Bernard Haitink: he not only conducted it first time round in 1975 but also led revivals in 1977, 1978 and 1980. The first night was dedicated to his memory.
The Glyndebourne Rake has long been accessible on film and DVD. However, cameras give an incomplete idea of David Hockney’s designs which are its raison d’être. Recognising that psychological realism doesn’t wash in this score, John Cox persuaded the artist to collaborate on a unique entertainment that leapfrogs the opera’s three-act structure to return to Stravinsky’s original inspiration in the etchings he viewed at a Chicago exhibition in 1947. Each scene becomes a freestanding tableau tied to Hockney’s cross-hatched response; the necessary pauses between them are covered by a now-classic drop cloth. At first the deliberately limited colour palette, static lighting and restricted stage movement can appear a little dated yet there are sufficient bursts of colour and energy to compensate. The second half’s busily stylised auction and poignant insane-asylum finale (a much-imitated tiered-box set) remain wonderfully fresh. Before long you don’t miss the flashier fluidity of a ‘modern’ production.
In the pit, Stravinsky’s tricky instrumental writing is dispatched with confidence under Kerem Hasan, at twenty-nine already chief conductor of the Tiroler Symphonieorchester in Innsbruck and here making his Glyndebourne Tour debut. As in their other appearances this year the musicians sound more than usually engaged by the chance to play in the midst of a pandemic.
The cast is an attractive mix of dynamic newcomers and seasoned veterans. In a role he has already sung for British Youth Opera, tenor Frederick Jones is unimpeachable as Tom Rakewell, the naïve libertine whose final descent into madness is genuinely affecting. Nardus Williams incarnates a more sensuous, less passive Anne Truelove than many of the small-voiced early-music practitioners who have been allocated the role, her vibrant shimmer just occasionally turning fibrous. Also impressive is the suitably tall Nick Shadow of Sam Carl; his strong bass-baritone is not quite evenly projected but capable of a sinister edge. Mezzo-soprano Rosie Aldridge relishes the comedic patter of Baba the Turk. Smaller roles are well taken and there is a cameo from Fiona Kimm, herself winner of the 1978 John Christie Award, as Mother Goose.
The orchestra is never too loud. That a verse-libretto as smart and sizzling as Auden & Kallman’s is not always ideally audible can be put down to the composer’s idiosyncratic word setting. The Epilogue concludes that “for idle hands, and hearts and minds, the Devil finds a work to do”. More topically we are warned against shadowy figures promising gifts and benefits as a reward for unsound decision-making. English surtitles are provided though not during recitatives, and in truth a few intermediate scored episodes could do with more help. No matter.
This show is in amazing shape, as was octogenarian John Cox taking his bow on opening night, and it should give pleasure up and down the land. While the sunset glow over autumnal Glyndebourne is something very special, The Rake is also touring to Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Norwich and Liverpool. Catch it if you can.