CLASSICAL MUSIC / Progress, after a fashion

BEDLAM arrives earlier than expected in the new Opera Factory production of The Rake's Progress. Where Stravinsky steers his Rake along a path of gradual decline that collapses into lunacy and mayhem only in the last Act, Opera Factory (steered by David Freeman at the QEH) drop him into the abyss by Scene 2: the Brothel Scene which, as anyone who knows Freeman's work might have guessed, comes with no holds barred. From then on, the Rake's world is a nightmare populated by a chorus of crazies whose wardrobe and behavioural disorders have been lifted from one of Madonna's less family-oriented videos. And yes, this is a modern-day Rake's Progress, relocated (as its painted backdrops explain) to a cardboard city on the South Bank. That the derelicts have such radical-chic dress sense is confusing; but we are, most definitely, in the fall-out from Thatcher's Britain. And it's not a pretty sight.

In some ways, what Freeman does here is true to the spirit of the piece. He signals (in semaphore) that the Rake is a Morality, and acknowledges that the libretto is so choked with allusion to the standard business of repertory opera that it reads in archetypal terms, like a retrospective of its genre. The Madonna-isms are a sort of top- up, a stab at keeping the allusiveness alive to the changing language of performance.

The problem is that Freeman's raunchy, anything-goes theatre is at odds with the fastidious neoclassicism of Stravinsky's music. And the strong ensemble style that has often kept Freeman's riskier ventures afloat wasn't obvious on the opening night. It didn't look quite ready for an audience.

That said, it sounded fine. Mark Tucker's Rake is short on pathos but vocally attractive; Mary Plazas is a stunning Anne, with the clean, aerial brightness of a Dawn Upshaw but more colour and expression; and Geoffrey Dolton (Nick Shadow) is an Opera Factory regular who goes from strength to strength. A stylish but high- voltage all-round actor-singer.

Johannes Schaaf demands as much of the entire cast in his 1987 production of Le nozze di Figaro, revived at Covent Garden; and as before, its sheer forensic sharpness is unsettling. Proceeding at the pace of spoken theatre (Pinter's, that is) rather than of buffo opera, it does drag, but the extra time allows an input of detail so inventive that those tired old Figaro routines gain a sense of purpose that restores the serious challenge to social order at the heart of Beaumarchais' original play. This is a household where the masters are only superficially in control; and where a Figaro with the presence of Bryn Terfel (chief contender for superstardom among young British singers) can really assert himself.

Around him is a cherishable cast led by Jeffrey Black's Count and Sylvia McNair's Susanna. You might query the wisdom of Christine Brewer's Countess: she's a big lady, and Schaaf has enlarged the touch of comic pathos he always found in the role to acknowledge her physique rather than pretend it isn't there. When she makes her first entrance, from under a mountain of bedclothes in the preamble to 'Porgi Amor', she looks like Divine cross-bred with Hattie Jacques. The audience laugh, though whether they are meant to isn't obvious. But like the real Jacques, Ms Brewer turns out to have a bosomly dignity. And when the voice comes, there's no laughing: just astonishment at its extraordinary depth of colour and full-bodied texture.

The set designs are scrappy, Hartmut Haenchen's conducting is irredeemably slow, and the orchestral sound manages to be thin, hard and still not clear. But otherwise the combination of cast and staging sets a precedent of purposeful intelligence in opera.

Staying more or less with Mozart, last weekend saw the British premiere of a piece whose genre was a standard feature of 19th-century concert life: a fantasy paraphrase for violin and orchestra on themes from The Magic Flute. The composer was Sarasate, one of the string masters of his time; and the latter-day executant was Yuri Braginsky, a Russian violinist who has made a speciality of tracking down these operatic fantasies - sometimes, necessarily, from the original manuscripts in that they tended to be kept and guarded as personal property by the maestri who devised them. Braginsky claims to have unearthed 100 of them, which should make a fine hoard for some enterprising record company. The Sarasate is certainly a winner - amiably attractive, with the tunes you know and love embellished just enough to tease the ear but not to be grotesque. Virtuoso display is kept, surprisingly, within the realms of taste. Braginsky himself is just as engaging: little-known in Britain but with a fine-spun purity and elevation that deserves a wider audience. This Oxford concert (at the Sheldonian with the New Chamber Orchestra) ought to have won him some followers.

The forces that determine which artists from abroad make serious careers in Britain remain mysterious. A case in point is Richard Goode, the American pianist who has been around for a long while but never, in this country at least, as a major star. When his new Beethoven sonata cycle launched at the QEH last month it was poorly attended. But suddenly the word is out that Mr Goode is something special. And on Tuesday, for the third programme in the cycle, the QEH was virtually full, with a buzz in the auditorium that wasn't air-conditioning.

If you've heard Goode's Beethoven recordings, you can begin to understand just how special these sonatas (they included both the Opus 27s and the Opus 110) proved to be. But 'begin' is the word. They were astonishing: a paradigm of artistry, keenly controlled and organised, but with the radiant artlessness that truly great musicians somehow suggest. Goode may not present an ideal Beethovenian legato - he can be a fraction over-crisp - but his command of nuance, his apportionment of weight, his sense of timing are impeccable. And he lays out this repertory the way thriller-writers plan their plots: charting the contours of the argument with crises, clues and revelations, every one a minor miracle of judgement. There's no more of the sonata cycle till November. You'd be wise to book.

'Rake's Progress' continues Tues & Fri (071-928 8800), 'Figaro' Mon & Wed (071-240 1066).

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Above the hat of the toy gibbon, artist Mark Roscoe included a ‘ghost of a bird’ and a hidden message
art
Arts and Entertainment
Alien: Resurrection, Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder
film
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable