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10 Aug, 2010

The Rake’s Progress | Opera review

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Glyndebourne

Designed by David Hockney and directed by John Cox, Glyndebourne’s production of The Rake’s Progress dates from 1975 and is still widely regarded as the benchmark staging of Stravinsky’s great, if difficult, opera. Time has inevitably coloured our responses to some of it. The brothel scene, with its regimented circles of whores and roaring boys, now seems a bit tepid when compared with more recent stagings. We’ve also become accustomed elsewhere to fluid set changes rather than a drop cloth and pauses, though Cox’s use of the latter is very much in keeping with Stravinsky’s knowing deployment of the conventions of baroque opera.

Much of it, however, is still marvellously fresh. Hockney’s designs mediate between the 18th century and the 20th, just as the score self-consciously shuttles between Mozartian models and modernism. Cox’s understanding, meanwhile, of when to keep us detached and when to let emotions through remains wonderfully acute. The confrontation between Tom and Anne on the steps of his townhouse is heart-rending. The auction, in which the detritus of Tom’s life is sold off to prurient consumers, is as painful as it is funny, and a deep, unnerving sadness spreads itself over the final scenes like a pall.

The performances are often exceptionally strong, though Matthew Rose’s beautifully sung Nick Shadow is a bit too genteel to be satisfyingly demonic. Topi Lehtipuu charts Tom’s transformation from callow youth to fop with credible naivety, which makes his final descent into insanity all the more tragic. Miah Persson is his tellingly feisty Anne. Conductor Vladimir Jurowski, always good in Stravinsky, immaculately negotiates the score’s fine line between irony and sentiment.

Rating: 4/5

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