David Hockney and John Cox’s production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress first saw the light of day at Glyndebourne in 1975 and there’s a video of it from back then. It’s been revived umpteen times since, all with Cox directing rather than an overawed revival director. It was done again in 2010, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting, recorded and issued on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s fascinating.
Hockney’s amazing designs have really stood the test of time. This is still one of the most interesting productions visually that’s ever hit an opera stage. The contrast between the “naturalism” of Anne and Tom and the cartoonish nature of everyone else is made all the sharper by the striking appearance of the two young principals. Cox’s production has been refined and I think there’s more room for the characters to express themselves as actors than in the beginning. This may be partly because the stage in the new house is bigger but also perhaps because our expectations of singers’ acting abilities have risen a lot in 35 years. It’s still, by design, stagey and fourth wallish but there does seem to be more complexity to the characterisation.
Musically, Jurowski is a revelation. Like most people I’ve always really seen the piece as an “English opera” (though written in LA) but Jurowski sees it as essentially Russian and of a piece with Stravinsky’s other theatre works. It’s a fruitful artistic tension that results in some very detailed playing from the orchestra (the LPO) and great precision in the recitatives.
The casting is near perfect. Topi Lehtipuu and Miah Persson are near perfect in vocal chops, appearance and characterisation. They give just the right young, vibrant feel while navigating Stravinsky’s far from easy music. If you are fed up of hearing “I go, I go to him” in recitals and competitions listen to Persson here. It’s really, really impressive. Matthew Rose is a fairly youthful Nick Shadow (he’s younger than the production) and can’t quite match the sinister gravitas of Sam Ramey on the earlier recording but he’s impressive in his own way. Nice work too from everyone else especially Elena Manistina as a very good Baba the Turk. As ever, the Glyndebourne Chorus is first rate in every department.
Video direction is by François Roussillon and he is very good as ever. He may be the most consistently excellent video director around write now. The HD recording has no problems with the planes and hatchings of Hockney’s designs which created such a mess on the earlier disk. The DTS-HD sound too is clear, well balanced and vivid. There’s a cast gallery and a couple of short interview features included as extras. The interviews feature both creative team and cast and are well worth watching. It’s clear that Cox and Hockney have an enduring working relationship but that it’s not static and it is very inclusive of the rest of the team. The work is reimagined for every revival rather than being entrusted to a nervous assistant director with a play book. The booklet has an essay and synopsis. Subtitle options are English, French, German and Spanish.
So, finally, Cox and Hockney’s Rake gets the video recording it deserves. I guess I might still struggle through the older one just for Sam Ramey’s Nick Shadow but in all other respects the newer recording is much superior.