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Operas by Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky LOC 32392u.jpg

The Nightingale (1914)
Mavra (1922)
Renard (1922)
Oedipus rex (1927)
Perséphone (1934)
The Rake's Progress (1951)
The Flood (1962)

The Rake's Progress is an opera in three acts and an epilogue by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is based loosely on the eight paintings and engravings A Rake's Progress (1733–1735) of William Hogarth, which Stravinsky had seen on May 2, 1947, in a Chicago exhibition.

The story concerns the decline and fall of one Tom Rakewell, who deserts Anne Trulove for the delights of London in the company of Nick Shadow, who turns out to be the Devil. After several misadventures, all initiated by the devious Shadow, Tom ends up in Bedlam, a psychiatric hospital south of London. The moral of the tale is: "For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds a work to do." Co-librettist Kallman has written that Stravinsky wrote the opera with the following voices in mind: Eleanor Steber (Anne Truelove), Jussi Björling (Tom Rakewell), and Ebe Stignani (Baba the Turk).

Contents

Performance history

It was first performed in Venice on September 11, 1951, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf creating the role of Anne Trulove, and Robert Rounseville that of Tom Rakewell. It was first given in Paris at the Opéra-Comique on June 18, 1952, under the baton of André Cluytens and produced by Louis Musy. The American premiere was on February 14, 1953, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conducted by Fritz Reiner and produced by George Balanchine. Although the BBC had previously produced a studio recording (broadcast on January 2, 1953), the first staging in England was by the Cambridge University Opera Group, and opened on December 19, 1956. In 1957, it was a part of the first season of the Santa Fe Opera under the direction of John Crosby, who persuaded the composer to attend rehearsals. Stravinsky returned to the SFO each summer through 1963. In 1961, Ingmar Bergman produced the opera at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, where it opened on April 22. For the noteworthy 1975 Glyndebourne Festival Opera production, sets and costumes were designed by David Hockney.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
11 September 1951
(Conductor: Igor Stravinsky)
Tom Rakewell, a Rake tenor Robert Rounseville
Anne Trulove, his Betrothed soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Nick Shadow, a Devilish Manservant baritone or bass Otakar Kraus
Baba the Turk, a Bearded Lady mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel
Father Trulove, Anne's Father bass Raphaël Arié
Sellem, an Auctioneer tenor Hugues Cuénod
Mother Goose, a Whore contralto Nell Tangeman
Keeper of the Madhouse bass Emanuel Menkes

Synopsis

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Act 1

Hogarth's third painting, showing Tom experiencing a brothel in London

Tom Rakewell is courting Anne Trulove outside her father's house in the country. Trulove has doubts about his daughter's proposed marriage and tries to arrange a regular job for Tom; but he resists the idea and, left on his own, declares his intention to "live by my wits and trust to my luck." When Tom expresses his wish for money, Nick Shadow appears and tells him that an unknown uncle has left him a substantial fortune. He then invites Tom to employ him as a servant and go with him to London to sort out his inheritance. The second scene, set in Mother Goose's brothel, shows Shadow introducing his new master to the sleazy aspects of London life. But Tom is uneasy and laments his betrayal of love, yet accepts Mother Goose's invitation to spend the night with her. Meanwhile, back in the country, Anne wonders why she has not heard from Tom. She knows somehow that he is in danger, and sets out for London to aid him.

Act 2

Tom is bored with his dissolute life. He utters his second crucial wish, for happiness, whereupon Nick makes the odd suggestion that he demonstrate his freedom by marrying Baba the Turk, the famous bearded lady. Soon afterwards Anne finds Tom's London house, only to see him emerge from a sedan chair which also contains Baba, whom he has just married. Tom tells Anne to leave, yet genuinely regrets what has happened. In the next scene Tom is clearly finding his eccentric marriage intolerable, as Baba is a chatterbox with a fiery temper. He silences her by throwing his wig over her face, then falls asleep. Nick enters with a "fantastic Baroque Machine" and demonstrates how, through the use of a hidden compartment in the machine, it appears to turn stones into bread. Tom cries out in his sleep that he wishes it were true, and waking, finds the machine he has dreamt of. Nick hints that if such machines were mass-produced Tom could become a saviour of mankind and Tom sets out to market the machine, not knowing it is a sham.

Act 3

Tom in Bedlam, comforted only by Sarah Young (Anne in the opera) - the last of Hogarth's paintings.

The plan has failed - the act starts with the auction of the ruined Tom's property by the maniac auctioneer Sellem. The objects for sale include Baba, who has remained immobile since being silenced by the wig. When unwrapped, she resumes her tantrum, now directed at the auction-goers for disturbing her belongings, but calms down when Anne enters. Baba advises her to find Tom and "set him right", and warns her against Nick Shadow. She announces her intent to return to her life on the stage. In a graveyard, Nick reveals his identity and demands payment from Tom, in the form of his soul; but as midnight strikes, Nick offers him an escape in the form of a game of cards, which Tom wins, thanks to the benign influence of Anne. Defeated, Nick sinks into the ground, condemning Tom to insanity as he goes. Consigned to Bedlam, Tom believes he is Adonis. Anne ("Venus") visits him, sings him to sleep, then quietly leaves him. When he realizes she has gone, he dies. In an epilogue, the principal characters point out the simple moral: that the Devil finds work for idle hands.

Noted arias

  • Shadow's Aria ("I was never saner.")
  • Shadow's Departure ("I burn! I freeze!")
  • Anne's Aria ("No word from Tom.")
  • Tom Rakewell's Aria ("Here I stand...")
  • Baba the Turk's Aria and Monologue ("As I was saying, both brothers wore moustaches...")

Quotes

Shadow (goading Tom into further ridiculous behavior):

No eye his future can foretell
No law his past explain
Whom neither Passion may compel
Nor Reason can restrain.

Recordings

There have been more than half a dozen recordings of the opera. The Gala recording of the 1951 live performance is available. A Sony recording, with Judith Raskin as Ann and John Reardon as Nick Shadow, is from London 1964 and is conducted by Stravinsky himself. It is currently available on the Sony/BMG 22 CD box set Works of Igor Stravinksy.

References

  • Fuller, John. W. H. Auden: A Commentary. London: Faber and Faber,1998. ISBN 0571192688 (cased); ISBN 0571192726 (pbk). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998. ISBN 0691004196 (cased); ISBN 0691070490 (pbk.)
  • Griffiths, Paul, with Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft, and Gabriel Josipovici. Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress. Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-521-28199-7
  • Mendelson, Edward. Later Auden. London: Faber, 1999. ISBN 0571197841. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. ISBN 0374184089

External links


Simple English

The Rake's Progress is an opera by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman is based loosely on the eight paintings and engravings from the 18th century by William Hogarth called A Rake's Progress. Stravinsky had seen these paintings in 1947 at an exhibition in Chicago.

The Rake’s Progress tells the story of a man called Tom Rakewell. The word “rake” in this sense means “someone (usually a man) who behaves in an immoral way: a man who has relationships with lots of women.

The word “progress” in the title is ironic because Tom does not really make progress: he does not become a better man. In a sense he progresses backwards, because he starts off in a state of blissful innocence, i.e. he does not understand anything about his life, he does not know about good and bad. At the end of the opera he also does not understand anything about his life, but that is because he has gone mad.

Tom is like Faust because he sells his soul to the devil. In this opera the character Nick Shadow represents the devil. Tom leaves his lover Anne Trulove and goes to find lots of other women in London. He has several adventures, which are all arranged by Nick who is helping him to have a good time. In the end Tom finds himself in Bedlam which was a horrible building where mad people were sent in the 18th century.

Contents

Musical style

The Rake’s Progress is the only full-length opera that Stravinsky wrote. It is unusual because it was not written in the modern way of most music of the 1950s. Because the story of the opera is set in the 18th century, the style of the music is deliberately like music from that period. It is divided into arias and recitative (big songs which are linked with simpler music which tells the story).

Stravinsky’s music in this opera is in the neoclassical style. He uses counterpoint a lot in this opera. This helped him later on to write serial music: music in which all 12 notes in an octave are equally important. Tom sings some words in the second act of The Rake’s Progress which suggest that Stravinsky is going to widen his compositional style in this way: “Vary the song, O London, change!/Disband your notes and let them range”.

Story of the opera

Act 1

Tom Rakewell wants to marry Anne Trulove. Her father does not trust Tom because he has no regular job. Tom would like to have lots of money. He meets Nick Shadow who tells him that an unknown uncle has died and left him lots of money. He says to Tom that he can be his servant and go with him to London to sort out his inheritance.

Nick takes Tom to places where there is a lot of bad, immoral behaviour. Tom agrees to spend the night with Mother Goose in her brothel. Meanwhile Anne, who lives in the country, wonders why she has not heard from Tom. She thinks something might have happened to him, so she goes to London to look for him.

Act 2

Tom is bored with his immoral way of life. He tells Nick he wants happiness, so Nick says he should marry Baba the Turk, a famous bearded lady. Soon afterwards Anne finds Tom's London house. She arrives just in time to see Tom get out of a sedan chair with Baba, whom he has just married. Tom tells Anne to leave, but he really is sorry for what has happened.

In the next scene Tom hates his marriage to Baba, who is a strange woman. She is a chatterbox with a fiery temper. He makes her quiet by throwing his wig over her face, then he falls asleep. Nick enters with a "fantastic Baroque Machine" which seems to turn stones into bread. Tom cries out in his sleep that he wishes it were true, and waking, finds the machine he has dreamt of. Nick says to Tom that he could make a lot of money if he started a business making these machines. Nick is deceiving him: the machine does not work.

Act 3

Tom has lost a lot of money, and the things in his house are being auctioned by the auctioneer Sellem. The objects for sale include Baba, who has not moved since being silenced by the wig. When she is unwrapped, she comes to life again and starts shouting angrily. She is angry about the auction that is taking place, but calms down when Anne enters. Baba tells her to find Tom and "set him right", and warns her against Nick Shaddow. She says she wants to carry on with her acting career.

In a graveyard, Nick shows who he really is, and tells Tom that he must pay with his soul. Nick says he has worked for him for a year and a day; but as midnight strikes, Nick offers him a way of escape in the form of a game of cards, which Tom wins, but only because he was thinking of Anne. Nick has lost, and sinks into the ground, telling Tom that he is going mad. Tom is put in the madhouse called Bedlam. He believes he is Adonis and that Anne is Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Anne visits him, sings him to sleep, then quietly leaves him. When he realizes she has gone, he dies.

In an epilogue, the main characters point out the simple moral: that the Devil finds work for idle hands (people who are lazy).

Performance history

It was first performed in Venice on September 11, 1951, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing the part of Anne Trulove. In 1957, it was a part of the first season of the Santa Fe Opera. The composer himself came to the rehearsals. There was an excellent production in 1975 at Glyndebourne Festival Opera which was designed by David Hockney. This production has been revived at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in July 2008.


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