Editor: Marc Bridle
Len Mullenger: Len@musicweb-international.com
S & H Opera Review
Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress ENO
1 Dec 2001 (JM) – review 2 of 2
The English National Opera team succeeded with a wonderful production
of Stravinsky’s The Rake's Progress. The singer-actors under
the direction of Annabel Arden were intensely convincing in Stravinsky’s
highly artificial, stylised opera - the only full-length opera he wrote.
The casting was brilliant and lucky. Small, boyish Barry Banks
as Tom Rakewell portrays a man who knows that the world of vice is much
more interesting than the financial industry. His singing is light and
during his decline into final madness conjures a sense of tragedy.
Banks transgresses his own world with ironic distance, just for fun,
inspired by the devilish Nick Shadow, sung by Gidon Saks. Saks’
imposing physical appearance is in stark contrast to Barry Banks’. They
make a grotesque pair, which underlines the self-conscious artificiality
of Stravinsky’s opera. Obviously Arden was inspired by Jim Carrey’s
exaggerated movements in the film The Mask and despite his athletic
build Gidon Saks dances like Carrey, which makes it even more impressive.
Saks’ singing is superb.
Lisa Milne as Anne Trulove seduced the audience with her beautiful
voice, which is full of true emotions and sorrow, particularly when
she discovers that Tom is married to the bearded woman. Sally Burgess
as the bearded woman Baba the Turk again reinforces the artificiality
of the opera and sings with brilliant rage after having been rejected
The choir is actively involved in the drama but in the bordello scene
Arden used them too statically for my taste. Why should life stop for
them just because Tom is singing an aria?
Vladimir Jurowski’s conducting was business like: only in the Madhouse
scene did the music start to drag. Interestingly, that is also the moment
when the real emotions of Tom’s madness are really portrayed. But I
suspect the problem lies with Stravinsky’s compositional style which
here becomes too drawn out. He leaves the mood of ironic, stylised distance
and a formalistic approach and instead indulges in late Romantic expressionism.
I went into the opera with some trepidation about Stravinsky’s neo-classical
mannerisms but I found it absolutely convincing in the highly artificial
context of this opera. It has lightness and irony. It underlines the
artificiality of the opera. It is highly self-reflective and in that
way very personalised Stravinsky.
The well-constructed libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman keeps
the dramatic impetus going. It was a wise decision by Stravinsky to
get a first class writer involved. Compare that with the bungled fiddling
of Prokofiev with Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
ENO’s production of The Rake’s Progress was a very enjoyable
evening. I can strongly recommend it.
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