MUSIC / Perfect mix: Edward Seckerson reviews Glyndebourne Touring Opera's The Rake's Progress

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The Independent Culture
As surely as Tom Rakewell is bound to Nick Shadow, Stravinsky's opera and David Hockney's decor are the definitive item. They are perfect together: Stravinsky's score all rhythm and roulade, fragrant yet pithy, precise yet free; Hockney's sets likewise, soft colours lifted with inky line-drawings, sharply etched and yet fluid, geometrical and yet full of cunning displacements. You see what you hear - and it's crisp, airy, witty. Stravinsky alludes to Mozart and the Italian bel cantists, Hockney to Hogarth, but they do so with a devilish virtuosity all of their own.

It's going to take more than a fire at Glyndebourne to separate them. That, of course, is precisely what happened a matter of weeks ago when Hockney's sets burned only to rise again from the ashes. In Glyndebourne Touring Opera's timely revival they take to the road looking as though the paint is not yet quite dry. John Cox's original production is revived here by Aidan Lang, and once more it's a case of going with the flow of score and design. Hockney no more overwhelms Stravinsky than Stravinsky over-embellishes W H Auden and Chester Kallman's text. But, it's the kind of production where the designer is effectively the producer - the visuals dictate the stage blockings. Once seen, never forgotten: Mother Goose's Brothel - a giant bed flanked by 'Lecherometers', a whore and client in every cupboard; or Bedlam, its paper- masked inmates cooped like battery-hens for their hieratical Oedipus-like Greek choruses.

Hockney's costumes look, quite literally, as though they've been cut from the fabrics of the set. Like the characters in this morality play, they are cut-outs. The music humanises and ennobles them. It has to be supremely well-sung, and the technical difficulties are immense. Glyndebourne Touring Opera's spirited cast gave it their best shot.

Anne Dawson sings Anne Trulove's wonderful Act One aria against a midnight blue sky and crescent moon. She should be better lit for her troubles. In more ways than one, she was feeling her way. As yet she is a little tight in the aria: she'll float more when settled, the cabaletta will effervesce (wouldn't a brisker tempo help?). Easier said than done, of course, but relaxing into the coloratura will help free that final high C. It was there, but only just. Her best singing came in the last scene, playing Venus to poor mad Tom's Adonis.

Barry Banks' light lyric tenor was at its most affecting here, too. The stage personality is limiting, to say the least, but he always managed to shine in the wistful ornamentations of his solos. And his petulant schoolboy countenance played off absurdly well against Fiona Kimm's Baba the Turk. Kimm, too, is a little light for the role, but she worked hard to fill her voluminous pantaloons, thrusting away with Stravinsky's burlesque-like vocal leaps. As ever, the show-stealer was Nick Shadow. Stephen Page was, vocally and physically, a dark, commanding presence with an evil eye and comic timing.

He didn't quite have it all his own way. GTO's superb chorus was a motley group of painted Hogarthian characters, sharply, purposefully choreographed to energise all the ensembles - a real boon in the rowdy scrum of the auction scene where Hockney so memorably charts Tom's demise by draining all the colour and order from his once-pastel morning room. Amid only monochromes, the auctioneer's red hair stood out like a warning beacon. There was energy from the pit, too, under Ivor Bolton: sterling work from overpressed woodwinds, trumpets, and high-horns; a cadaverous threnody of strings and gothic harpsichord for the graveyard scene. Yes, it has sounded better (rhythm and impetus slipped here and there), but I still can't imagine The Rake's Progress ever looking better.

Further performances at Sadler's Wells on 22 and 24 October; then tours to Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Manchester and Oxford.

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