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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Rake's Progress - Opera in three acts (1951) [146:00]
Anne - Felicity Lott (soprano); Tom Rakewell - Leo Goeke (tenor); Trulove - Richard Van Allan (bass); Nick Shadow - Samuel Ramey (bass); Baba the Turk - Rosalind Elias (mezzo); Mother Goose - Nuala Willis (mezzo); Sellem - John Fryatt (tenor); Keeper of the Madhouse - Thomas Lawlor (bass)
The Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
rec. live, Glyndebourne Festival, 1977
Region Code 0; NTSC; Sound format - PCM Stereo; Picture format - 4:3
Subtitles: English, German, French and Spanish
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102 314 DVD [146:00]

The inspiration for this opera was William Hogarth's set of engravings depicting a young man who squanders an inheritance on gambling and other vices. Stravinsky saw them in Chicago and invited W.H. Auden to write a libretto; and he in turn sought the assistance of Chester Kallman. The resulting text is clear, poised, and well suited to its purpose whilst avoiding the kind of literary showing off that spoilt Auden's earlier libretto for Britten's Paul Bunyan.

However one of the more regrettable features of the present issue is that for much of the time the text is unclear, and I soon found it necessary to add the English subtitles in order to be able to follow the words. As such artists as Felicity Lott, Richard Van Allan and Samuel Ramey have all shown themselves elsewhere to be more than capable of delivering English texts clearly, both live and on recordings, I suspect this largely to be the result of the recording quality, admittedly not helped by Stravinsky's sometimes unhelpful scoring.

The production, first seen in 1975, rapidly became very well known, mainly for the remarkable designs by David Hockney. These derive closely in style from Hogarth and made the viewer in the theatre think they were seeing his engravings come to life. What was astonishingly effective in the theatre is by no means as much so on the screen, especially when, in many scenes, the background appears to be shimmering and therefore uncomfortable to watch. For most of the time there is a lack of the precision which was an important characteristic of the stage picture. All of this is presumably another result of the age of the recording. It is nonetheless well worth seeing as a record of some exceptionally fine performances in a well considered and well rehearsed production. It's also valuable to hear Bernard Haitink getting just the right sound and style from the orchestra . even if the recorded sound does require some creative listening from the listener at times. There are no extras and the brief essay in the booklet is about the work and says nothing about this production. When a performance is being issued whose historic interest is likely to outweigh any technical deficiencies it makes good sense to explain to the purchaser as much as possible about that historic interest. I am not sure whether anyone who did not see the original production would be convinced from this film of just how good it was. That said, I hope that enough remains and, together with the merits of the cast and conducting, this makes it a valuable addition to the available recordings of this extraordinary work.

John Sheppard