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Igor Strawinsky - The Rake's Progress [2 DVDs]
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Stravinsky's masterwork The Rake's Progress, created for La Fenice in Venice in 1951, is based on a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, inspired by a series of 18th century prints by William Hogarth. This amazing production from La Monnaie–De Munt ‘jazzifies’ the setting by replacing Hogarth's sin city, London, with 1950s Las Vegas, turning it into a glittering, cinematic gallery of tableaux vivants inspired by the early days of television. Staged by one of the most visionary theatre directors of our age, the Québécois Robert Lepage, the neo-classical morality tale truly becomes a grand spectacle. Lepage's visual imagination works its magic superbly, while Kazushi Ono's energetic musical direction drives the sparkling ensemble to exhilarating heights. Recorded in High Definition and true surround sound.
"Lepage has forged a reputation as one of the most visionary theatre directors of our age...The Rake's Progress is heading our way, and it promises to be a highlight of the 2007/8 season." (The Sunday Times)
"Doubtless Kazushi Ono must take credit for some slickly cinematic pacing. This is a show to be seen and, down to the witty, period and silent menu screens, a model of its kind." (Gramophone)
Laura Claycomb (Anne Trulove)
Andrew Kennedy (Tom Rakewell)
William Shimell (Nick Shadow)
Julianne Young (Mother Goose)
Dagmar Peckova (Baba the Turk)
Symphony Orchestra & Choir of La Monnaie; Kazushi Ono
Stage Director: Robert Lepage
Catalogue Number: OA0991D
Date of Performance: 2007
Running Time: 174 minutes
Sound: 2.0 PCM & 5.1 DTS
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, IT, NL
Label: Opus Arte
Lepage hat sich einen Ruf als einer der fantasievollsten Theaterregisseure unserer Zeit erarbeitet...The Rake s Progress kreuzt unseren Weg und verspricht das Highlight der Saison 2007/08 zu werden. (Sunday Times)
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Lepage has moved the opera up to the 1950's - the era in which Stravinsky composed the opera (and for some well thought out reasons), and set it in the American West. Taking advantage of the state of the art projection equipment available today, the curtain rises on a breathtaking view of an oil field that somehow combines George Steven's classic motion picture "Giant" with the Trevor Nunn production of Oklahoma, with Anne and Tom stretched out on a blanket declaring their love. When Shadow appears, he rises from the ground beneath an enormous, ever pumping, oil derrick - and is black - covered head to toe in Texas tea.
The next scene London is transformed into a movie set and the derrick has turned into a director's boom/jib with Shadow riding high above the action calling out through a megaphone. Mother Goose is transformed into a Marlene Dietrich styled brothel madam and when Tom takes her they sink beneath the stage taking miles of pink satin sheets with them leaving a giant heart-shaped bed, and a bar room brawl. With Stravinsky's music - it all seems to work perfectly!
When Anne races to rescue Tom, it is in a little red convertible sportscar, windshield wipers going and Anne's silk scarves blowing in the wind until carried off on a life of its own. Projected images speed by and she even makes a few hairpin turns, and the images filling the stage around her slow down into the city's streets. It is nothing short of dazzling showmanship - I can't recall anything quite like it. She arrives at a movie theatre complete with Hollywood searchlights and a marquee emblazoned with "Baba the Turk and Tom Rakewell - a Nick Shadow Production." The scene is at once, hilarious and infinitely touching.
Later, we find Baba and Tom lounging poolside, Baba taking a dip, Tom reading Variety with the hilarious headline "Gloria Swanson to star in Sunset Boulevard" (next to that is an opera review!). The entire thing here has a "Sunset Blvd." feel entirely appropriate to the proceedings.
The scenes primarily involving Tom and Nick have a lovely, eerily sinister feel to them, the first taking place before Tom's trailer on the movie set (a hilarious bit of scenery change that provokes laughter from an otherwise fairly staid audience) ... Tom is partially dressed in what appears to be a Cassanova costume, the stars are twinkling, his ego is raging and evil is afoot. It's brilliant.
Vocally things could hardly be better. Andrew Kennedy - all milkfed faced and slightly smarmy charm makes this Rake's "progress" all too believable. His arias are dispatched with a gorgeous, liquid old-school British lyric tenor sound that has just a touch of honey to it. Kennedy is not one of today's matinee idol tenors, and so to have him believing he's "all that" makes his journey all the more poignant. He's quite wonderful, really. His scene in Bedlam where he believes he is Adonis, is perfectly acted and sung with golden tone.
Quite simply, Laura Claycomb was born to sing Anne Truelove. Her voice is a mystery - at once light as a feather, but with a steel spine or core to it, there is an odd dichotmy of delicacy and strength that is entirely unique. She spins out these silvery high notes that float like gossamer - then she applies pressure to increase them to a size and volume not quite believable, but still entirely true to her sound. I'm grasping at words here, so, in a nutshell: she rocks. Her "No word from Tom" and the aria and cabaletta that follow are all of a piece, with an ease through the coloratura paces Stavinsky demands of her capping it all with a solid, ringing top C and - boy it's exciting! The scene where she discovers Tom's marriage to Baba - well, vocally and visually Claycomb, as, dejected and lost, she climbs back into her little red car - well, if she doesn't break your heart, you haven't got one. As good as she is in all of those scenes, it is when she returns to Tom in Bedlam that Claycomb's Anne shines brightest. That silvery, pure voice is now wedded to the heart of a woman who knows this love is lost and yet has nothing but compassion and tenderness to express. I think I've quite fallen in love with her. This is a remarkable performance.
Always a fan of William Shimell, I must admit to being just a bit surprised when he arrived on the scene for he looked remarkably like Jose van Dam - something I'd never noticed before. Shimell plays Nick Shadow to the hilt, the voice booming out nicely when called for, but more lyrical than many Shadows of recent vintage who seem to want to "boom" a lot more than really is necessary. All that Handel and Mozart singing shows nicely in this role. And what a great physical presence he is, agile and swift seemingly appearing out of nowhere. He's seductive, suave - even when dripping with black crude.
I was less excited about Dagmar Peckova's Baba - her heavily accented English and thick vibrato seeming to be a less than perfect match for Stravinsky's music, but she acts up a storm - in one of the more bizarre costumes to ever grace a stage (kinda creepy too).
The la Monnaie chorus and orchestra are led by their maestro (someone new to me), Kazushi Ono who gives a crisp, very classical feel to the score. The orchestra sounds wonderful and the chorus is quite amazing in all their music, particularly the Bedlam scene. Lepage's production is sure to cause a ruckus (it has) but for anyone who loves this opera as much as I do, this is a must have DVD of a thoroughly engaging, well thought out and immensely moving production. I loved every minute of it!
The disc is available from the OpusArte label and well worth owning.
(BTW - I cannot wait for Lepage to get his hands on the Met's new Ring. Some of the ideas I've read has been absolutely fascinating!)
Stage director Robert Lepage and his set, image and costume designers have created an intriguing visual counterpoint to Stravinsky's score, which seems to be infinitely adaptable by nature. The drama flows organically right to the end, with few jarring moments (there are some). Elements of stage business are quite clever, such as Anne Trulove's road trip to Vegas in an MG, highway and scenery created by discrete rear projection. Film crews on colorful sound stages 'record' parts of the opera, adding additional layers of meaning. It is all done with style and cleverness. The cast is quite good. Andrew Kennedy sings a fine Tom Rakewell. Laura Claycomb is a strong yet vulnerable Anne. William Shimell, who rises out of an oilwell, his clothing covered in glossy oil when we first meet him, makes an effective Nick Shadow. Dagmar Peckova is an especially weird Baba the Turk, a study in orange feathers. The music is well played though not as forcefully as it might be. Kazushi Ono conducts The Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie-De Munt Brussels slightly on the diffident side. There are no major complaints, however. The opera was recorded in High Definition and looks great. Sound is in LPCM stereo and true DTS 5.0 surround sound and is state-of-the-art. There are some extras and a glossy booklet included. The running time of the two discs is about 174 minutes.
The clear first choice remains the 1975 Glyndebourne Festival production conducted by Haitink, with David Hockney's fantastic sets referring back to the 18th Century engravings by Hogarth. That production is one of the finest opera DVDs in the catalog. This new version makes for a nice second choice for those who love the Rake and would like to see a contemporary vision of the work. If you don't yet have the Glyndebourne set, available on an Arthaus Musik DVD, by all means get that one first. You'll appreciate this new one a whole lot more after you've seen that brilliant, more traditional production.
Ce spectacle de La Monnaie De Munt bénéficie d'une mise en scène formidable de Robert Lepage, et d'une pléiade d'acteurs-chanteurs absolument magnifiques, avec une mention particulière pour le ténor Andrew Kennedy.
Cette production allie le cirque de la vie, avec le mirage actuel de la télévision et de ses faux-semblants, fusionnant le fric et l'appêtit de gloire dont les excès ne pourront cependant pas occulter le triomphe de l'amour, de la fidélité et d'un certain bons sens, qui arrivent souvent à surmonter les terribles épreuves de la Tentation.
The best known production of this opera is undoubtedly the 1975 version from Glyndebourne, in which David Hockney recreated the Hogarth engravings which inspired the opera. In the present production, director Robert Lepage "jazzes" with the opera (much as Stravinsky "jazzed" with 18th-century music), viewing the work from the standpoint of the period and place of its composition - mid 20th-century America. There are those who will say that the opera loses its meaning when separated from Hogarth and the 18th-century. I completely disagree. The neoclassicism of THE RAKE is not an 18th-century pastiche, but a revitalization of old forms and styles. Lepage's updating draws our attention away from the opera's 18th-century allusions and allows us to appreciate 1) the archetypal nature of the story, and 2) the music as music. Moreover, the parallels which Lepage has found between London and Las Vegas are so clever and apt that they elucidate rather than obscure the story. THE RAKE is certainly a rich enough work of art to bear a variety of different interpretations, and Lepage's is an utterly compelling one. Not to mention that the stage designs are absolutely stunning to behold!
The outstanding cast is led by Andrew Kennedy and Laura Claycomb, sensational as Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove. The RAKE is still a recent work in the grand scheme of things, but Kennedy and Clayomb sing it as if it were Mozart, undaunted by the decorative stylings, quirky melodic lines and off-kilter word settings which Stravinsky strews in their path. Their singing is shapely and inflected, they project the text with amazing clarity, and they embody their roles physically and psychologically. William Shimmel's oily black voice and dry, dagger-like declamation are a perfect match for the part of Nick Shadow. I was less enthused by Dagmar Peckova as Baba the Turk; her voice proves unwieldy in the coloratura, and her heavily accented English is distracting. Conductor Kazushi Ono's treatment of the tricky score is neither too indulgent nor too brisk and unsentimental. Stravinsky's rhythms slink and swagger and his fascinating harmonies glisten in this terrific rendition.
This magical production of THE RAKE'S PROGRESS had me spellbound. Enjoy!