Magazine article The Spectator

Passion and Principle

Magazine article The Spectator

Passion and Principle

Article excerpt

David Hockney's designs for and John Cox's production of Stravinsky's climactic and final neo-classical work, The Rake's Progress, are celebrating their quarter century, and have worn so well that one can't imagine ever wanting them to alter, except within very narrow limits. Meanwhile the opera itself is about to celebrate its half-- century, and there the judgment is rather different. Controversial to begin with, and stupidly received by many critics, it was subject to something near neglect before mutating effortlessly into a classic, as with virtually everything Stravinsky wrote. If it isn't careful, it may pay the price of its classic status: no one will ask questions about it; no one will be refreshed by it any longer; it will become another monument, which I feel is the last thing the composer would have wished.

At a superficial level it can never fail to entertain, so long as it is done with the panache of the Glyndebourne team. Everything about the performance enchants, or enough to carry along the things that don't quite. And in one case, that of Nick Shadow as incarnated by Gerald Finley, we have an account alarming enough to disrupt complacency. From his opening apparition, after Tom has spoken the line `I wish I had money', when, as directed by the libretto, `Shadow appears immediately at the garden gate', he is sinisterly comic, unnervingly precise in his gestures, a ghastly parody of friendly concern. Finley has become one of the most complete singing actors of our time, and in all respects his performance merited its rapturous reception.

Rosemary Joshua carried over her Handelian credentials to noble effect, making the cavatina of her Act I aria sound more baroque than Donizettian. She acts with spirit, so that the always imminent danger (spotted too late by the composer) that Anne will emerge as a latter-day Micaela is circumvented. For the Rake, Kallman tells us, the librettists had in mind a voice like that of Bjorling, something they have never been granted - and what an incredible impression it would make if they were. At least Richard Croft, though he lacks vocal size, has the timbre and strenuousness of an Italianate rather than an East Anglian tenor, which is agreeable; and his petulance in the opening scene and tendency to act like a spoilt child throughout seems right. He managed both the graveyard and the Bedlam scenes with intensity and vivid acting, and will probably become as satisfactory a performer of the role as it has had in recent ears.

Not all the minor parts are as strong as the principals, both the grotesque women being somewhat miscast: Mother Goose has not enough voice left; Baba is lacking in full-blown low notes, and is altogether a bit too much of a lady, though she should be something of one. …

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