Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress [Glyndebourne Festival] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Opus Arte
- Blu-ray Release Date: January 31, 2012
- List Price: $39.99
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
William Hogarth, an 18-century British illustrator, created a series of lithographs which depict a young man’s temptation, debauchery, and eventual ruin. Igor Stravinsky happened upon these drawings at an art exhibition and the rest, as they say, is history. With librettists W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky composed his only opera, The Rake’s Progress, which was not only written in English but in the classical period style, complete with harpsichord-accompanied recitatives and reduced orchestra. The storyline is indeed an old one, Faustian in its themes. Tom Rakewell wishes to marry Anne Truelove. However, he needs fame and fortune to be a successful suitor. Much to Tom’s eventual chagrin, Nick Shadow (AKA The Devil) enters the scene and takes Tom through a long downward journey. Along the way, he makes and loses a fortune, marries the bearded lady, Baba the Turk, wrests his soul from Shadow in a card game, and ends up in an insane asylum.
This 2010 Glyndebourne performance revives David Hockney’s celebrated 1975 original production. The sets are avant-garde, in a good way, and the costumes, mostly true to period except for rag-mop wigs. Stravinsky’s 1951 Venice premiere featured some pretty darn good singers including Robert Rounseville (who was Leonard Bernstein’s first Candide) and the legendary Elisabeth Schwartzkopf. Unfortunately, The Rake’s Progress was not well received until it entered the Glyndebourne repertory in 1963. The current production is strongly cast with Swedish soprano Miah Persson (Anne), Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu (Tom), British baritone Matthew Rose (Nick) and Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina (Baba). There is luxury casting in the minor roles with the ageless Graham Clark (Sellem) and Clive Bayley (Father Truelove). Vladimir Jurowski, the Festival’s music director, leads the Glyndebourne chorus and London Philharmonic Orchestra with aplomb. Opus Arte renders another Blu-ray with superb sight and sound.
The Rake’s Progress is a very visual opera and the sets and costumes do not disappoint. The broad use of caricature in the make-up is evident in the face shots. The videographers turn in a great job of covering the smallish stage. The comic muse is well served by judicious balance of close up and panoramic views. The color palette shifts between the mood lights of each scene and supports the dramatic values quite well. In short, a beautiful show to watch.
Glyndebourne is a very intimate venue with great acoustics. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack gives a great sense of the performance with realistic balance between singers and pit orchestra. That Stravinsky scored this opera for a chamber-sized orchestra also helps this balance and ensures that the singers are clearly heard at all times. The extra channels convey a nice bit of ambience. The principals not only look their parts but also produce some excellent vocalism. Kudos must go to Ms Persson who nails Anne’s difficult Act II aria and Matthew Rose’s unctuous Shadow with appropriate snarl. Opinions will be mixed on tenor Lehtipuu who looks the part but works under some duress when called upon to deliver the occasional vocal oomph.
There is a “Behind the scenes of The Rake’s Progress” short feature, and an “Introduction to The Rake’s Progress.” Both add to the appreciation of this unusual work. A cast gallery is also included.
The Definitive Word
When I see a production that sets and maintains such a high standard for directorial and musical values, I cannot help but wonder why this does not happen more often. Perhaps the answer for The Rake’s Progress is that it has been in the Glyndebourne Festival’s bones for more than four decades. Perhaps, but more likely than not, the resounding success of this performance must have resulted from serious rehearsal time and artistic guidance.In terms of 20th century opera, Stravinsky’s decision to go retro makes The Rake’s Progress much more accessible than some of the modern fare to which operagoers are frequently exposed. The cast chemistry is outstanding and maestro Jurowski keeps a knowing finger on the musical pulse. David Hockney’s sets and John Cox’s direction have held up well despite their respective age.
Now for the competition. There is a DVD of the original 1975 Glyndebourne production with such luminaries as Samuel Ramey (Shadow) and Felicity Lott (Anne). While not the last word in visual impact or sound, it is a treasurable performance. An Opus Arte Blu-ray release from the Theatre de Monnaie in Bruxelles is a well-sung but seriously updated version that may not appeal to those favoring the original period concept. In summary, the current Blu-ray is an endless delight that will go along way to getting this under-rated opera in many homes.
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