5 September 2010

The Rake's Progress at Glynebourne

My fifth visit to Glyndebourne this season was for The Rake's Progress and just happened to be on the very last night of the festival.


As usual I went with friends and also as usual for this year the weather was not as kind as I would have hoped and so, preferring discretion to valour, we chose to picnic in the marque.

The first order of the day was to consume some of the large volume of cake we took and to help it down with a bottle of champagne. This excess and decadence is not unusual for our picnics at Glyndebourne!

The weather then broke allowing us to take a long stroll around the gardens which is always worth doing and is very much part of what makes an evening at Glyndebourne so special.

Moving away from the house the lawns become fields with just a subtle ha-ha keeps the sheep away from the sandwiches and behind the trees on the left is a long pond that is a popular destination for the pre-opera walks.


Nearer to the house the garden is formal and planted extravagantly with bulging herbaceous borders and exotic plants more usually found in places like Kew Gardens.

The gardens circle around the house offering further delights like the cherry orchard that leads on to a small raised lawn complete with a Henry Moore entitled Draped Reclining Woman.

The gardens reach right up to the opera house and hide it successfully as you approach via the main route from the car park area. This, of course, also has the advantage that you see straight in to the garden from the opera house. The setting and surroundings of the opera house are other factors that add magic to the occasion.

But the music still comes first.


The Rake's Progress is a moral tale where a lazy young man engaged to a pretty lady inherits a fortune and quickly falls in to the temptation of the lavish and Licentious lifestyle that London offers.

It all falls apart and even the love of a good woman is not enough to save him, or rather his sanity, and he ends up in Bedlam.

The music, as you might expect from Stravinsky, is not the easiest to follow or, I suspect, to sing to. The music was almost staccato like at times and the broken tempo did not suit the Rake too much. His love had an easier job of it and he strong and rich voice shone out throughout.

I've said many times that I'm not a fan of elaborate sets but there are exceptions that prove the rule and Hockney's sets revived from 1975 are an example of this. They were simple in style but strewn with images drawn in that familiar style. And with costumes to match.

This was most effective at the start of the third act when the Rake has become bankrupt and his goods are being auctioned off. Here the set, the costumes and even the actors' faces were monochrome. The drama was increased even more when the chorus all came to the front of the stage and sang to the audience en masse.

And so the curtain fell on another season that while it had its ups and downs it never disappointed and it usually delighted. Next year should be more of the same.

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