Victory for sound over vision
Welsh National Opera gives a performance of The Rake's Progress which survives the director's Big Idea.
Monday 19 February 1996
This bizarre notion clutters what is in other ways a beautiful and intelligent production, and one of the best-sung Rakes I can remember. Laura Hopkins produces a marvellous series of tableau settings, largely costume-based, though with a lovely Theocritan Arcadia for Truelove's garden; how clever to make the brothel exclusively of the bodies in it, with Yvonne Lea as a comely if overcooked Mother Goose (nothing in the libretto makes her the usual ageing mountain of spilling flesh), even if it does mean abandoning the cuckoo-clock, which should be seen as well as heard.
Warchus himself is an attentive, literate stage director with an eye for detail. His musical timing is immaculate, and I'm impressed by his sensitive handling of movement and facial expression. Rakewell's responsiveness - and his indigence - are worked in from the start, so that one senses his vulnerability. Paul Nilon plays him very accurately and sings throughout with vitality and an apt vocal freshness spoilt only by too much thinning in the last scene - whether from tiredness or as an image of spiritual emptiness, I'm not sure.
But the high quality is general. Alwyn Mellor is a splendid Anne, true in voice as in love, touching in manner, soft, never soggy, just as Claire Powell cleanly hits off Baba's sentimentality at the auction - a nice satire against the 18th- century love of freaks, because Baba, in fact, has the mentality of a frustrated housewife. Neil Jenkins's Sellem is secure, if undermined stylistically by the 1880s redating. Best of all is Bryn Terfel's overplayed, dazzlingly sung Shadow, a pantomime demon who loses because he cheats - one of Auden's best jokes which, oddly, some find implausible.
But the most interesting music-making is the conductor Mark Wigglesworth's. It is out of deference to Warchus's chronology that he softens the edges of Stravinsky's scoringm making it almost sugary at times. I doubt this: it's a musician's reading with the virtues of its defects, since this is - after all - a ravishingly beautiful score. Speeds are on the slow side and there were early ensemble problems, but also much fine playing later and some superbly drilled choruswork. It's a distinguished performance which easily survives the Big Idea.
n Cardiff New Theatre, Wales, 24 Feb, 7 Mar (01222 878889)
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Dakota Johnson's 'It's only Isis' Saturday Night Live sketch sparks controversy
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
EastEnders may bring transgender character to Albert Square to challenge 'traditional' viewers
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Indian Summers recommissioned: Channel 4 confirm a second series of British Empire drama
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'