Few productions seem so perfectly matched and strike such a perfect balance between the intentions of the opera work and its presentation on the stage as David Hockney's designs for the classic Glyndebourne production of Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. The measure of the success of the production is that it was first put on at Glyndebourne in 1975 and, as this 2010 performance at the festival shows, it is still delighting and wowing audiences thirty-five years later and will no doubt continue to be revived for many more years. There aren't many productions that have that kind of staying power. A modern artist surely not to everyone's taste, one might expect something relatively avant-garde from David Hockney when called upon to design the set for a 20th century opera, but in reality, his approach almost perfectly mirrors Stravinsky's method of composition for The Rake's Progress. Seeking inspiration directly from the source of William Hogarth original drawings made in the 1730s, Hockney's sets reproduce the intricate cross-hatching in bold, colourful strokes on flat board backdrops - a modern interpretation of a classical design.
It works so well because, after all, that's exactly what Stravinsky's opera does also. Composed in 1951, the composer working in the neo-classical form (before he moved on to serial composition), The Rake's Progress accordingly plays to the conventions of the 18th century opera. Classically structured into three acts, with three scenes in each, Stravinsky's 20th century composition even uses recitative with harpsichord continuo and da capo arias in his treatment of a subject that has many resonances with Mozart's operas. Since it wears its references openly, the names of the characters even reflecting their types - Tom Rakewell leaving behind his beloved Anne Trulove on the instigation of his demonic alter-ego Nick Shadow for a life of dissolution in London - The Rake's Progress can be an opera that is easier to admire more than to really love. It's all very clever but a little dull and constricting, and the opera can consequently be a little static when performed.
There are however compensating factors that prevent The Rake's Progress from being merely a pastiche that is too clever for its own good, not least of which is a beautiful libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman and some fascinating arrangements by Stravinsky, but what this particular Glyndebourne production has going for it is of course the production by David Hockney and John Cox. Every scene is an absolute delight, breathtaking in some places, with marvellous little touches that bring out the humour of the situations well. Vladimir Jurowski treats the opera very much as a Russian work, while being mindful of its English and international aspects. These are brought out fully in the casting and the singing, which is of fine quality throughout, with Miah Persson and Topi Lehtipuu demonstrating perfect English diction. If their acting performances are unremarkable and a little static, it's probably more a failing with the nature of the opera itself - but there are enough compensating factors in the singing, the staging and the performance to make this a highly entertaining experience.
Depending on your set-up, there might be some minor aliasing in the costumes, but the transfer copes well with all the cross-hatching. Otherwise, the full impact of the colourful production is visible in the High Definition transfer and in the actual filming. The LPCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 tracks capture the detail of the musical performance brilliantly and dynamically. Extra features include a Cast Gallery, a brief Introduction to the Rake's Progress that contains recent interviews with Hockney and Cox about the production, and a wider look at the opera in a 12-minute Behind the Rake's Progress featurette.