Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 - 1971)
The Rake’s Progress (1951)
Robert Lloyd (bass) - Truelove; Dawn Upshaw (soprano) - Anne; Jerry Hadley (tenor) - Tom Rakewell; Samuel Ramey (baritone) - Nick Shadow; Anne Collins (mezzo) - Mother Goose; Grace Bumbry (mezzo) - Baba the Turk; Steven Cole (tenor) - Sellem; Roderick Earle (bass) - Keeper of the Madhouse; Orchestre et Choeur de l’Opera National de Lyon/Kent Nagano
rec. Opéra de Lyon, July 1995, January, March 1996
synopsis but no texts enclosed
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 68138-0 [69:40 + 67:45]
I doubt there is another post-war opera that has had as many recordings as The Rake’s Progress. Add to this that most of them are highly recommendable. The recording from the Venice premiere, conducted by the composer has, naturally enough, special importance, despite sound that leaves much to be desired. Much better in that respect is the first studio recording from 1953 with the cast from the first Metropolitan production, again under Stravinsky’s baton - Fritz Reiner conducted the Met performances but with Stravinsky present at the rehearsals. When that performance was reissued by Naxos a couple of years ago I immediately fell in love with it (the Craft version is also on Naxos). His stereo remake a decade later is generally regarded as the benchmark recording, not least for Alexander Young’s assumption of the title role (Sony) but that Met version has a special freshness that I really like.
Among the later recordings the present Lyon production has always been held in high esteem. I hadn’t heard it before but straightaway, from the beginning, I was caught by the performance and when I reached the end I had the feeling that I had been in for something really great. There are several reasons for that. The recording, to begin with, is clear and detailed, almost analytical, slightly dry - which suits this work with its chamber size and quasi baroque atmosphere. The text is well enunciated and there is no problem to follow the proceedings with just the synopsis at hand, librettos being a commodity in short supply with low-priced issues today. There are also some well judged sound-effects, most spectacularly in act II scene 3, where not only crockery is being smashed. The conducting is another asset here. Kent Nagano keeps the music alive and his rhythmic acuity gives springiness to the performance that is irresistible.
Unless Grace Bumbry’s Baba the Turk may be deemed a bit over the top - and this character is over the top anyway - the solo singing is superb and Bumbry, then in her late 50s, is still in glorious voice, after a career of more than 30 years spanning mezzo roles as well as soprano repertoire. There may have been more spectacular singing of Anne Truelove’s role, but Dawn Upshaw creates a wholly convincing portrait: both vulnerable and purposeful. Her big scene (CD 1, tr. 21-24) could hardly be bettered. Jerry Hadley has more vitriol in his tone than could be expected and his Tom Rakewell is a three-dimensional character, warts and all, while in the cavatina (CD 1, tr. 18) he retains the lyrical beauty of tone that was his hallmark.
Samuel Ramey has not always been the most vivid actor vocally, but his voice seems cut out for sinister characters like Nick Shadow. Mack Harrell on the Met is more varied in expression but no one can mistake Ramey for anything but a devil. Robert Lloyd’s Truelove is equally impressive with steady black tone and the rest of the cast are wholly admirable.
Irrespective of price this is a highly recommendable recording and now that it has been issued in the super-budget price range it would be close to criminal not to purchase it.
A highly recommendable recording and now that it has been issued in the super-budget price range it would be close to criminal not to purchase it.