For me, this is the best Rake on DVD since the 1975 production
Stravinsky is a composer I more appreciate rather than love, but along with The Firebird and Oedipus Rex The Rake's Progress is one of his finest works. I loved this production, the 1975 Goeke/Lott/Ramey production is still the number 1 choice for me but this production is the best since that one on DVD, better than the impressive but flawed Swedish film and leagues above the disappointing Salzburg production with Hadley and Upshaw. It is also proof that an innovative production can work.
It is not a conventional staging by all means. The settings consist of an Oklahoma-like beginning contrasted with a Las Vegas/Hollywood-like one to signify Tom's increasing dissolution. But what made me love this approach was the opulence of it, it didn't look ugly and still maintained the basic spirit of the opera. The staging has some interesting touches like the whole idea of Anne racing through turbulence to find Tom at a film premiere and the contrasts between the pastoral beginning to the television/cinema world are almost chilling. What was impressive was how it did all this without feeling superfluous or distorting the characters. The scene changes and such are very swiftly done.
Musically it is superb. The orchestral playing is very detailed, there are so many colours in the playing making the asylum scene really haunting especially and the accents and rhythms are tight. Kazushi Ono's conducting shows not only an understanding of Stravinsky and the opera but also of the idea that the opera is a neoclassical work.
The performances I found difficult to fault. I can't wait to see more of Andrew Kennedy in the future, he looks youthful, sings with a fresh vibrant tone and gives a very hauntingly moving performance, giving one of opera's most difficult tenor roles something truly special. He is very touching in his duets with Anne, his final scenes is guaranteed to resonate with you for a while after and I loved how the rest of the characters were developed to give this role more dimension, especially effective with Nick Shadow. Laura Claycomb is every bit as outstanding, her Anne is gritty and determined yet affecting and charming also and her singing especially in her farewell to Tom shimmers with beauty.
William Shimmel is most effective as Nick Shadow, giving a performance that is much more than a stock villain. This Nick Shadow- if not quite on the same level as Samuel Ramey's perhaps supreme portrayal of the role- is sinister and creepy yet also subtle and understated, making the portrayal smoothly menacing. His singing is superb as well, fitting with the character perfectly. Darren Jeffrey also deserves credit for cutting a thoroughly convincing father figure in Trulove, he is very dignified and sings with security.
Dagma Peckova is a very striking Baba the Turk, sometimes hilarious and identifiable in her rejection by Tom. The Mother Goose of Julianne Young is very strong also, likewise Donal J.Byrne's Sellem has the oil dripping off him(figure of speech just so you know). In conclusion, a brilliant production, after seeing so many innovative concept productions that fail badly it was really refreshing to see one that worked so well.
10/10 Bethany Cox
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