Tuesday 10 August 2010

Parallel rakes

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.


Paul Cannon said...

Could VFO be the Verbier Festival Orchestra,David? I think I recognise their-er- uniforms, and didn't they do Don G. last year with Bryn?
Can't wait to see the production after your review (but I guess I'll have to..)

David said...

Aha, of course, Paul - I hadn't tallied this with the Bryn-from-Verbier clips. But Anna Samuil was indeed in that too. So I suppose I ought to recognise the conductor, and sure I could find out if I tried hard enough...

Paul Cannon said...

According to you-tube it's Manfred Honeck.Thanks for the chance to hear/ see Anna Samuil.I'm now a fan..

David said...

Yes, she's, erm, a little more focused than the fitfully brilliant Netrebko, isn't she? Maybe I shouldn't compare, but we're talking superstar status here, clearly. The girl's a natural. Good clip of her singing/acting Maria's Mad Scene from Mazeppa in Lyon - though would want to see the final lullaby-duet even more.

Minnie said...

Many happy returns (albeit belated) to J. Hope you both had a great time (?in/around your beloved favourite town).
Love the idea of parallel rakes (do they meet in infinity? In which case, I suspect the Don would make mincemeat of the overprivileged Englishman).
Glyndebourne Don sounds like an improvement on the Tcherniakov prod'n at Aix (was DT trying for a Eugene O'Neil effect?). But I never could get to grips with the Hockney et al 'Rake's Progress': kept wanting Hogarthian excess in full colour/vulgarity.
Thank you so much for intro (+ clip) to the delightful Anna Samuil; thrilled to hear/of her, & sure you're right in identifying her as a star.

David said...

Well, I guess poor mad weak Tom's soul was saved by his Gretchen/Anne, and Don G's wasn't.

No problem with the Hockney Rake not being bawdy enough - Strav's brothel is oddly contained and the whole pleasure thing oddly depressed, as if Tom didn't have the appetite in the first place and just did it out of idleness, the only sin Auden and Kallman seemed to have in mind. But I do think we've had so many productions of the Rake which bring in all the colours of the score beyond Handel/Beggar's Opera/Mozart - what my talk was all about (everything from Monteverdi to serialism via Donizetti, Bizet and Tchaikovsky).

Will said...

Mr. Burden is someone I would like to see far more often here in the States. So far, by best chance of seeing him has been at Glimmerglass: Superb in Britten -- Rape of Lucretia and Death in Venice; noble and heartbreaking (and virtually naked with Nathan Gunn) in Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride; stylish and gorgeous of voice in Seraglio.

For some reason he isn't cast as much here as he should be; perhaps he's way too intelligent and not sufficiently castable in Puccini and Verdi to hold the attention of our major opera houses. To me he's a national treasure. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a Captain Vere from him some day.

David said...

Yes, I think he would now be the Britten tenor of choice (he sang Quint/Prologue in the Glyndebourne Turn of the Screw but I didn't see it). He has the intelligence and the crucial ingredient lacking in the other contenders - Padmore, Robinson, Bostridge (!) etc - of Italiante opulence when he needs it. That really gilded the lily of his Don Ottavio.

And, of course, he's a tall, handsome man, which always helps.

BTW, hope I re-posted you correctly: accidentally deleted your original among a couple of spam entries and had to paste the text.

Will said...

Everything that's in your comments section is what I originally wrote -- including one typo! I would be very interested to hear Burden in Clemenza di Tito and Idomeneo. The MET has good Ponnelle productions of both in its repertory and the title roles should fit Bill Burden like a glove.

Anonymous said...

I think you'll find the picture is of Matthew Rose as Nick Shadow.

David said...

Slip of the brain in that one. Knew jolly well it was Matthew Rose, had Alastair Miles (and spelling him right) on the brain. Duly corrected, thanks.

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

A propos the part of the gardens at Glyndebourne where nature has been left to run its course, one can recall the remark by a Rothschild, that in even the smallest garden there should be at least two acres of wilderness

David said...

Yet does that apply to Waddesdon, David, I wonder?

David Damant said...

A good friend of ours (Liam) will attend some kind of artistic course at Waddesdon in the new year and he can supply a full report

BUT it will be a long time before we can get the (late) nineteenth century in perspective. Indeed I think it will never recover