by Rachel Beaumont

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Highly respectable: The Rake’s Progress with the LPO

The Rake’s Progress
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Festival Hall
Choir A1, £8
3 November 2018
LPO page

With no fewer than three cast changes since I bought my ticket a few months ago, LPO still managed to assemble a largely excellent cast in this highly respectable semi-staged production. In fact my only gripe is that it was so poorly attended.

Our situation on the edge of the Choir provided a superb vantage point to observe Jurowski’s conscientious triangulation between orchestra, choir and soloists, and the detailed communication from singer to singer and from player to player. Acoustically it’s not great, though. The string sound felt heavy and thick, sometimes sluggishly behind the scintillating woodwind. And the singers’ consonants were often masked by the orchestra (true for all the singers, even such a reliable pronouncer as Matthew Rose), meaning I lost maybe half of Auden’s libretto. Oops. Still, even then I’m not sure the cons of this cheap seat close to the action outweigh its pros.

The heaviness of the strings aside – and to be fair, the violists excelled themselves in their solo passages – the LPO was on good form. Individual sections captured the glinting precision of Stravinsky’s music, easily swallowing its glorious oddities. The synergy between players did not always extend beyond sectional boundaries, and perhaps the orchestra wasn’t quite able to shake the feeling that this was a moderately under-rehearsed one-off rather than something they would be playing for weeks – but perhaps again my expectations are too high for a piece I know primarily through recordings or staged performances.

The singers almost suffered from the opposite problem, of knowing their parts and places so well they probably could have sung it in retrograde inversion while swinging from trapezes. Only Toby Spence as Tom Rakewell brought a semblance of spontaneity that I wish the others might have strived more for. Perhaps this is an inevitability of seeing a semi-staged opera up close. It’s not necessarily a bad problem to have: of course, the reason they’re all so blasé about it is because they’re so accomplished. Clive Bayley feels like true luxury casting for Father Trulove, and though the roles are more rewarding the same to some extent could be said for Spence, Rose as Shadow, Andrew Watts as Baba and Kim Begley as Sellem. The only person I remain slightly sceptical of is Sophia Burgos as Anne: she sings beautifully and beautifully in tune, but is a touch too quiet to hold her own against such grandés.

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