On Wednesday, fresh from the trip to Budapest, we had a couple of Amphitheatre seats for The Rake’s Progress at Covent Garden. After being lukewarm about the whole thing the last time I saw it, I was a bit more enthusiastic this time around.
Principally, the reason for this is that I got a bit more inside Stravinsky’s compositional style. As someone who likes their full-blooded Wagnerian ultra-romantic style, I find the modernist take on classicism a bit rambling and insipid. On this occasion, though, thanks to a couple of key performances, it was somehow lifted more effectively off the page.
Those performances were principally Kyle Ketelson’s Nick Shadow, Patricia Bardon’s Baba the Turk and the Anne Truelove of Rosemary Joshua. The principal parts were completed by Toby Spence as Tom Rakewell and, if there was a significant difference between him and the other three, it lay in a less vivid approach to pointing up the rhythm of the words. In this (at times) bizarrely convoluted libretto, supported by music that could verge on the formless at times, this made a huge difference to being able to stay engaged. Most notable of all, for me, was Ketelson, who was fabulously dark, malevolent and, indeed, devilishly sexy, aided by his slightly gaunt appearance. The crucial scene were he submits his claim on Tom’s soul was tense stuff indeed. In her scenes, Bardon was living it up as Baba the Turk and it was a wonderfully enjoyable performance to watch, walking a fine line between larger-than-life and overly-camped-up presentation.
If Anne and Tom had less of this hyperactive camp to play to, they came into their own in the asylum, when there were moments of incredible stillness and tragedy. Anne’s singing of the lullaby to Tom was intensely moving.
Nonetheless, this still couldn’t prevent that final scene from dragging a bit. I would expect that – from beginning to end – a performance less visually engaging than this would drag even more for someone who, like me, doesn’t value the musical idiom to the fullest extent. I know that this production has its share of critics, but I thought it very well executed, engaging and clever. The swimming pool scene for Baba, the driving scene for Anne as she pursues Tom, the little figure at the illuminated windows of the upstage, distant ‘model’ house are all clever devices, well-delivered. LePage and Ex Machina created a plausible world – whatever issues some may have with consistency to the story – and it is a world that fits the atmosphere of the piece. Ingo Metzmacher kept things lively and, whether it’s me just getting a bit more familiar with it or whether it’s a genuine difference, it did seem more crisply played than the last time I saw the piece.
I kept wanted to note down little quotes about London, or about life generally from amidst the text. Though everything was perfectly audible, it was difficult not to read the surtitles. It deadened some of the humour, having it projected just before it was sung; I can’t believe that there is not a way of timing the surtitles that serves the comic timing more effectively. Not that they were really needed at all…