Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available on Blu-ray
In this celebrated Glyndebourne Festival production, David Hockney’s designs for director John Cox reinterpret the Hogarth etchings that inspired the opera’s libretto, written for Stravinsky by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. In 2010, this revival under Glyndebourne’s Music Director, Vladimir Jurowski, captured the opera’s neo-classical spirit and its juxtaposition of whimsy, cynicism and compassion, prompting the Financial Times to call it,‘‘as enjoyable a performance of Stravinsky’s opera as any that has come along".
Anne Trulove – Miah Persson
Tom Rakewell – Topi Lehtipuu
Father Trulove – Clive Bayley
Nick Shadow – Matthew Rose
Mother Goose – Susan Gorton
Baba the Turk – Elena Manistina
Sellem – Graham Clark
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski, conductor
Recorded live at the Glyndebourne Opera House 18–19 December 2010
- Documentary includes an interview with David Hockney
- Introduction to the Rake’s Progress
Picture format: NTSC 16:9 Anamorphic
Sound format: LPCM 2.0 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
Running time: 1
The Rake’s Progress
Vladimir Jurowski, cond; Topi Lehtipuu (
); Matthew Rose (
); Miah Persson (
); Clive Bayley (
); Susan Gorton (
); Elena Manistina (
Baba the Turk
); Graham Clark (
); Glyndebourne Ch; London PO
OPUS ARTE 1062 (DVD: 140:00
Text and Translation) Live: Glyndebourne 8/19–21/2010
The Rake’s Progress.
An introduction to
The Rake’s Progress
This is a 2010 performance of David Hockney’s original 1975 Glyndebourne production of
The Rake’s Progress,
featuring a mixed cast of British and international singers. But of course, so did Stravinsky’s world premiere in 1951. Despite the fact that he wrote the roles with specific favorite singers in his head—Eleanor Steber, Ebe Stignani, and Jussi Björling—the singers he ended up casting were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Jennie Tourel, and Robert Rounseville. (Trivia question: who sang the smaller tenor role of Sellem in the world premiere? Answer: Hughes Cuenod!) Thus, the mixing of native English-speaking vocalists with international stars actually began in the composer’s mind, as only Steber sang with perfect English diction.
Here, however, the diction of the principals is almost consistently superb, even though Miah Persson is Swedish and Topi Lehtipuu Finnish. Even in the interview segment of the disc, their spoken English is excellent: Persson’s very slightly accented, Lehtipuu’s exactly like a native of Great Britain. This helps immensely in an opera such as this, where the libretto is highly literate, chock full of delicious turns of phrase and little puns, and necessary to understand in relationship to the music.
First, to the production itself. Hockney’s set designs are well-nigh perfect in capturing not only the essence but the actual look and feel of Hogarth’s original line drawings that inspired the opera, and John Cox’s equally inspired direction keeps things moving quickly and smoothly. Vladimir Jurowski too keeps everything crisp, bright, and buoyant. One might, in fact, make an ironic comparison of this performance to the world premiere, available over the years on both LP and CD. Through incredibly horrible, murky sound, one can discern that Stravinsky was either nervous, unsure, or under-rehearsed, because his tempos are almost consistently slower than written and the orchestral playing is very sloppy.
That being said, I am somewhat disappointed by the way the performance was recorded, the microphones placed fairly well off the stage. This captures a great deal of hall ambience but, like the CD issue of the Glyndebourne production of Britten’s
A Midsummer Night’s Dream,
it is actually
reverberant. Not only are consonants lost, but all the voices bounce off the walls in such a way that the singers’ actual timbres are hard to hear. Despite the fact that nearly everyone’s English diction is faultless, I am forced to turn on the English subtitles to see what exact lyrics are being sung!
Despite her outstanding voice (I consider her one of the three or four greatest Mozart sopranos in the world right now), Persson’s Anne is nice and pleasant (she hits a stunning high B and C in her aria “No Word from Tom”), but not an altogether sympathetic character. This may seem a small nit to pick, but in this opera, where even the slightest nuance can sometimes make all the difference in the world as to how the music is appreciated, I think it is an important point. Despite her accented English, Schwarzkopf was a surprisingly warm, sympathetic Anne, as was Judith Raskin on Stravinsky’s stereo recording of the opera, and in a competing DVD version on Opus Arte 991, soprano Laura Claycomb is near-perfect.
Lehtipuu, as I have had occasion to note, not only has a spectacular voice—he is almost the Finnish equivalent of Juan Diego Flórez—but is equally handsome and an even more convincing stage actor, witty and engaging. From that standpoint, then, he is an excellent Tom, but here, too, the role calls for some other qualities, a certain amount of warmth in his delivery of arias, a caressing legato (think again of Björling) in addition to pinging high notes, that make me prefer Rounseville in the world premiere and Andrew Kennedy in the competing Opus Arte release.
And there we run into a paradox. This production, which seemed so wonderfully innovative in 1975—and still looks good, no question about it—is somehow static in many ways. Hockney, a self-proclaimed enemy of “brown and serve opera,” was one of the pioneers who helped raise stage productions to an entirely new level in the 1970s, but the 1970s are ancient history now, just as the “Golden Age of the de Reszkes” was ancient history to Metropolitan Opera audiences of the late 1930s. If you watch Robert Lepage’s production on Opus Arte 991, which he updated to Las Vegas of the 1950s, you are immediately taken in by the sheer brilliance of the concept, so well does it work. In addition, the sound is immeasurably better, much warmer and closer in perspective, and—no question about it—the acting, or at least the acting as Lepage directs it, wins you over completely. Claycomb, Kennedy, and William Shimell (Nick Shadow) are so entirely convincing in their roles that you like and feel for them. I’m not sure that even an improvement in sound would make this Glyndebourne production competitive in terms of not only likeability but also the ability to make you laugh or cry for the characters. In short, the Hockney-Cox production has a certain clinical quality to it, if not actual coldness.
But I say these things as one who saw the Lepage production first, and was immensely impressed with it. Of course, listeners who also own the Stravinsky recording with Raskin
may also feel the same way, as that recording also has a certain amount of warmth, though not as much (to my ears) as the Lepage version, but if you take this DVD on its own merits (and they are many), I think you’ll enjoy it very much without really loving it, if that makes sense. Also, this performance has a distinct cost advantage in that it is on only one DVD while the Lepage production, which has more extras that take up time, is spread across two discs. However, and if you know me you’ll know that I rarely make such a recommendation, I come down on the side of the Lepage version for the various reasons stated above.
One final comment, though. Ever since the 1970s, casting directors seem enamored of casting squally voiced mezzos as Baba the Turk. Lepage had one such in Dagmar Peckova, and Cox has one here in Elena Manistina. One wonders where their ears are. Can’t they hear, as I do, how truly awful they sound?
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Rake's Progress by Igor Stravinsky
Elena Manistina (Alto),
Clive Bayley (Bass),
Miah Persson (Soprano),
Matthew Rose (Bass),
Topi Lehtipuu (Tenor),
Susan Gorton (Alto)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1948-1951; USA
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