Tuesday 10 August 2010
Surprising results from a two-day Glyndebourne stint. I was there to give a talk before the opening performance of The Rake's Progress, and stayed on not just for the show but also for this season's new production of Don Giovanni the following day - an extended treat for the diplo-mate's birthday. He, of course, has fond memories of what, for better or for worse, has become known as 'the Hockney Rake' from the Glyndebourne tour of 1992. He permits himself to appear below in yet another disguise as a chorene whose make-up increasingly came to resemble something from Cats. His 'wife' (his jest?) is the redoubtable Rachel Tovey, currently wowing 'em in Stockholm as Brunnhilde and in Bonn as Turandot.
Was expecting much from Topi Lehtipuu's Tom Rakewell (pictured up top with Matthew Rose's Nick Shadow for Glyndebourne by Alastair Muir, who took the other Rake pics below) and somewhat less from Gerald Finley's Giovanni (in the grips of another bass, Alastair Miles as a Hammer-horror Commendatore, as photographed by Bill Cooper, responsible for more Mozart shots here).
In the end, the expectations were reversed, at least as far as the overall castings went. Ed Seckerson has put his finger on most of the problems I had with this Rake revival in his Arts Desk review. Yes, the scene changes are intolerable, when each 3x3 act is supposed to fly past unbroken; how odd that Hockney should have gone for the illusion of a recomposed 18th century and not availed himself of the machinery which in Mozart's time could have flown drapes and flats in and out. All this was compounded by a restless, bangle-jangling and sweet-unwrapping crowd around us, who took every orchestral prelude played before the drop-curtain as a cue for chatter, ballet-audience style, and then oohed and aahed every time the curtain rose, fatal for the essential stillness of the Bedlam scene. Still, it does look handsomer than ever; I gather major work has been undertaken on sets, lighting and costumes, now officially 35 years old.
And the accents: a slight tinge of Finnish and Swedish would matter less in a more straightforwardly-inflected setting of Auden and Kallman. But Stravinsky knew what he was doing in making all things lopsided. Lehtipuu and the usually adorable Miah Persson, struggling with her upper range now, didn't quite grasp or project the subtler kinks. She did apply the lovely purity it needs to Anne's miraculously simple lullaby to the mad Tom in Bedlam, accompanied by two flutes only, though it's probably the only time I've sat through the restrained heartbreak of the final scene dry-eyed.
Lopsided, too, is Stravinsky's perception of what WHA & CK thought of as recitatives. Fine for the way Glyndebourne's supertitling has chosen to handle them if they were all with harpsichord. But there are numbers within numbers, and some rather thickly scored passages. By cutting out the text at these points, Glyndebourne is bound to puzzle anyone unfamiliar with the piece.
What worked? Well, above all, the most deliciously thick-accented of them all, Russian Elena Manistina as the most exotic Baba the Turk I've ever seen or heard, just superb. And apt, of course, for the authentic exotic of St Giles's Fair.
Graham Clark's bumptious, camp auctioneer set an example in diction; and some of Jurowski's crisp tempi, graced by a superlative LPO trumpeter, worked well. I can understand he wanted to get a move on in the difficult early scenes, but a conductor who really lets the cantabile woodwind sing as did Martyn Brabbins at Aldeburgh can show us more readily how emotional Stravinsky's score really is. But this wasn't Jurowski's aim.
Where I do bow to him in awe is for all the work he's so evidently put in to a crackling but not consistently hasty Don G. By the time we saw it, he'd handed over the baton to Brno-born whizzkid Jakub Hrusa, new Glyndebourne On Tour director. Golden days begun under Ticciati are bound to continue with Hrusa. From where we were sitting, we could see his hyper-alert, immaculate manner. Hard to say what was Jurowski's Giovanni and what Hrusa's, but I was impressed by the way the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on absolutely top form suddenly pulled all the tragic-dramatic stops out for the recit leading up to Donna Anna's 'Or sai che l'onore'. Compelling, too, the small string group around the cello obbligato of Zerlina's 'Batti, batti' - double-bassist Chi-Chi Nwanoku as mobile as ever - and the consummate artistry of mandolinist James Ellis in the Serenade.
At points like these I was distracted away from the perfectly decent singing of Gerald Finley and Anna Virovlansky. Finley is a keenly-inflected protagonist, but he never emanates sex or threat; in those respects, the superlatively adaptable Leporello, Luca Pisaroni, and the charismatic Masetto, Guido Loconsolo, would probably have served the part better. Here's Pisaroni on the right with Finley's Mastroiannish Giovanni and Kate Royal's nervy Elvira.
Royal came into her own for a stunningly fluid 'Mi tradi'. But the show's true royals were Anna Samuil's Donna Anna and William Burden's Don Ottavio. Here they are to the right in an especially glorious Act Two sextet (Virovlansky left, Pisaroni spinning lines of gold, Royal in the red dress and Loconsolo complete the line-up).
Samuil shone in the astounding Salzburg production of Eugene Onegin by Andrea Breth, and here she shows all the gleam of a proto-heroic soprano with total flexibility: I've never heard the runs at the end of 'Non mi dir' more flawless, on stage at least. And she's beautiful, a wonderful actress and an intelligent musician given the freedom to do what she needs by Hrusa. Found the aria performed by her on YouTube, with Michael Schade and the 'VFO' (would that be the Vienna Festival Orchestra - and who's the conductor?)
Burden brought real Italianate touches to 'Dalla sua pace' as well as sensitivity; what a shame the Vienna version deprived him of 'Il mio tesoro' and all the lovely stuff in the centre of the final ensemble (is that a Vienna thing? Or just impatience with the good guys on conductor's or director's part?)
This was the best production I've seen from Jonathan Kent, and I'm not usually a fan. The definition of the Italian 1950s setting was a bit loose, the Act 1 finale a confusion throwing away Mozart's gift of the three dance bands, the class distinctions uncertain. Nothing, it's true, as novel as some of the ideas in Dmitri Tcherniakov's Aix family saga, but nothing as crass as Zambello's attempt to put on a show at Covent Garden.
And a show this certainly was, dominated by Paul Brown's amazingly complicated set - all elegant opening boxes and marbled spaciousness in Act One, all steep rakes and decay in Act Two. The graveyard and guess-who's-coming-to-dinner scenes really worked; the brilliant ensembles carried all the bigger numbers. All things considered, the best Don Giovanni I've seen on stage, if not as thoughtful a concept as Deborah Warner's last-but-one Glyndebourne production. And what incredible futures all these singers have.