CLASSICAL: The Rake's Progress Royal Festival Hall, London
Monday 24 March 1997
Yet this presentation had more genuine theatricality than many full-scale productions. At each side of the platform an easel displayed a child's vivid scrawls, quickly changed to mark the shifting scenes; and singers emerged on cue from the wings, as in a staged performance, and sang without score, which allowed plenty of dramatically illuminating interplay. No one was credited with this "production", but since it several times included the conductor Andrew Davis in the action (once to proffer Babar's beard, another to sing a single line), it seems likely he was involved. Well, given that he's Glyndebourne's musical director, he should have some idea how opera works. Sometimes when concert performances allow the singers to abandon platform decorum, the results remain stiffly formal. Here, the natural ease spoke of detailed and thoughtful preparation.
The opera's diabolism may reek more of cigar smoke in a gentleman's club than of the rank sulphur of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat, but it still produces an agreeable frisson that William Shimell's sharply characterised Nick Shadow amplified to seismic proportions. This was the Devil as Don Giovanni, leading Barry Banks' cherubic Tom Bakewell a merry dance. Banks' light and direct tenor has something of the operetta about it, and he made Tom a malleable weakling utterly unable to resist his descent into dementia. And that despite the loving attentions of Joan Rodgers' Anne, displaying more vibrato than I remember from this gifted singer, but always sweet-toned and touching. With Jane Henschel a mostly unbearded Babar of Wagnerian dimensions and Robin Leggate rendering auctioneer Sellem as oily as any estate agent, to say nothing of strongly cast support in smaller roles, this was a superbly sung Rake.
With such vivid performances in front of them, it's no surprise that the players of the BBC SO rose to the occasion. Andrew Davis's enjoyment is infectious, and the horns and trumpets blared acridly against the insinuations of bassoons, clarinets and oboes, while the strings motored away furiously. Housed at the rear like prisoners awaiting trial, the BBC Singers played their part enthusiastically. The Rake's Progress, sometimes a glittery paste jewel, here emerged as profound, witty and moving.
This performance will be broadcast on Radio 3, 7.30pm Wednesday
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