Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Stravinsky – The Rake’s Progress

Anne Trulove – Laura Claycomb [pictured]

Tom Rakewell – Andrew Kennedy [pictured]

Nick Shadow – William Shimell

Mother Goose – Julianne Young

Baba the Turk – Dagmar Peckover

Trulove - Darren Jeffery

Sellem – Donal J Byrne


Musical Director – Kazushi Ono

Stage Director – Robert Lepage

Set Design – Carl Fillion

Costume Design – Francois Barbeau

Lighting – Etienne Boucher

TV Director – Benoit Vlietinck


La Monnaie, Brussels, April 2007

Opus Arte OA 0991 D [2 DVDs – 174 mins]


I go back a long way with this opera: looking through my old programmes I find the first London production at Sadlers Wells in 1957 (Kenneth Bowen unforgettable as Tom Rakewell), the first ROH production in 1979 (Robert Tear with hair but no beard) and sundry others along the way.  Like many others no doubt, I have been lulled into regarding it as a chamber piece, with as near to period sets & costume as the budget of the presenting company will provide.  An excellent recent example is the unforgettable production at Lucerne in summer 2005 achieved on a shoestring. [They could not afford to make a DVD, but we are privileged to have received a private video, which puts things in perspective.  PGW]


However, thinking back to the origins and inspiration the piece, Hogarth’s pictures are a biting satire on the society of his time, so I believe it to be quite valid to change the scenario to comment on a different society.  Looking carefully at the text, the libretto, barring the odd reference to counting houses and carriages, uses a distinctly 20th century vocabulary, and sits perfectly comfortably with a modern update.


The cross section of 1950’s American culture which Lepage lays out before us is both accurately and very ruthlessly observed.   He starts with the idyllic countryside of the mid west, with the sort of big sunset sky and cheerful costumes familiar from countless cowboy musicals.   The seamier side of life emerges in Mother Goose’s brothel, perhaps the weakest episode in this production: short on ideas and I found the constant swinging around of the aerial camera very tedious – I might have been tempted to quit at that point. 


The prelude to the auction scene provides the bitterest satire on American society.  The glitterati in party best turn up to gloat over the misfortunes of another, sipping cocktails and socializing, as though just being there was the most important thing.   Lepage’s notions may not be considered illuminating by all. Perhaps most particularly the auction itself, with none of Baba's weird possessions on display and the lady herself at the bottom of the swimming pool, awaiting resuscitation to continue her aria which had been interrupted at the end of Act 2 Scene 2...


Once the auction is concluded the opera turns from a light-hearted parody to serious drama and provides the two acid tests that I would apply to measure whether productions of this opera work for me.  Firstly, is there a real sense of conflict and tension in the graveyard scene?  Secondly, am I reduced to tears by Anne and Tom’s final farewell?   This one passed on both counts.     


The singing throughout is absolutely first class – Andrew Kennedy (Tom Rakewell) is outstanding, both in his singing of this testing role and in portraying the gradual development and disintegration of his character.  He is well matched by Laura Claycomb (Anne Trulove), with glowing radiance of tone, and the ruthlessly evil Nick Shadow of William Shimmell.


This production is scheduled to come to the Royal Opera House, although with a largely different cast.


Finally, a few remarks about a couple of DVD alternatives:


One  from the 1996 Salzburg Festival [Arthaus Musik 100-254] really is the worst Rake I have ever seen, and I am tempted to use a much stronger description!  On first viewing I found it so awful that I switched it off after the first 10 minutes and did not review it.  However I have gritted my teeth and skimmed through it, sampling each band. Rakewell is depicted as a graphic artist, and there is a sort of contemporary pop-art theme.  It is completely tasteless, with the chorus got up as monkeys.   Jerry Hadley tends to croon and Dawn Upshaw never looks comfortable – the only redeeming feature is Jane Henschel’s rather splendid Baba. 


Next a film version made for Swedish TV in 1995 [NVC Arts 3894-22353-2].  There are lots of picturesque location shots and it’s treated with the same sort of lavish care that the BBC would devote to a Jane Austin drama.   There are some sizeable cuts and the diction of a largely Swedish cast is a bit muzzy.    It provides enjoyable viewing but for me it is simply too beautiful for a work that should essentially be satire.   


Finally, there is the entirely delightful 1975 Glyndebourne production [Arthaus Musik 101 093].  Hockney’s delightful “engraving” sets make an immediate connection to Hogarth and the cast, Felicity Lott, Leo Goeke, Samuel Ramey, Richard Van Allan and Rosalind Ellis, act as superbly as they sing. 


Serena Fenwick