THE RAKE’S PROGRESS
Music by Igor Stravinsky
Libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman
Sung in English with English surtitles
With its beautiful arias contrasted with episodes of high drama and low comedy, The Rake’s Progress reveals Stravinsky’s very personal take on the neo-classical style during a turning point in the composer’s career. Now, in this theatrically vivid staging by A.R.T. Resident Director Allegra Libonati, the story of Tom Rakewell is seen through the eyes of Stravinsky himself – and dramatically unfolds as an interpretation of the fantastical inner landscape of the artist in the 20th century.
Dissatisfied with the simple country life, Tom Rakewell abandons his sweetheart to strike a deal with the devil and travels to the big city to embark on a life of reckless pursuit of money, power, fame and pleasure. After a visit to a sordid but enticing brothel, a grotesque marriage, a disastrously failed start-up venture and a game of cards with horrifyingly high stakes, Tom realizes the true nature of the bargain he has struck. Can he turn back the clock or is his fate already sealed? In a surreal battle of ideals, desires and temptation, Stravinsky tips the rake into madness and finds in Tom’s story a path to his own self recreation.
A slam-up of 50s pop icons, the gaudy excesses of Hollywood and the elegant brutality of Hogarth’s 18th Century London, this vision of The Rake’s Progress features Ben Bliss, recipient of Lincoln Center’s 2016 Emerging Artist award, making his BLO debut in the lead role, Kevin Burdette (acclaimed for Leporello in 2015’s Don Giovanni), Anya Matanovic, Heather Johnson, Yury Yanowsky, and a star turn by soprano Jane Eaglen as Mother Goose.
Conductor David Angus
Stage Director Allegra Libonati
Set Designer Julia Noulin-Mérat
Co-Costume Designer John Conklin
Co-Costume Designer Neil Fortin
Lighting Designer Mark Stanley
Movement Director Yury Yanowsky
Wig-Makeup Designer Jason Allen
Dramaturg John Conklin
Surtitle Designer Allison Voth
CAST, in order of vocal appearance
Anya Matanovic as Anne Trulove
Ben Bliss as Tom Rakewell
David Cushing as Trulove
Kevin Burdette as Nick Shadow
Jane Eaglen as Mother Goose
Heather Johnson as Baba the Turk
Jon Jurgens as Sellem
Simon Dyer as Keeper of the Madhouse
Yury Yanowsky as Stravinsky
2 hours, 45 minutes including one intermission
Pre-Opera Talks are free to ticketholders and take place one hour before curtain
LISTEN TO THE MUSIC
In the idyllic countryside, Anne Trulove and Tom Rakewell celebrate their love. Anne’s father has found a job for Tom in the city, but Tom longs for an easier path to money. Nick Shadow appears with news that Tom has inherited a fortune from an unknown uncle. They must leave for London and Tom need only pay Shadow for his services after a year and a day. In the wicked city, Shadow introduces Tom to Mother Goose’s brothel. Back in the country, Anne fears the worst and decides that she must rescue Tom. Meanwhile, Tom, in his new London house, is already bored with ordinary pleasures, so Shadow suggests visiting the amazing bearded woman, Baba the Turk. When Anne arrives at Tom’s house, she is horrified to find him married to the hideous Baba. When Tom tires of Baba as well, Shadow appears with one last new idea… a machine that turns stones into bread. Anne again appears to save Tom, but this time his house is for sale and his property for auction. The bankrupt Tom has disappeared with Shadow. Baba urges Anne to follow him. A year and a day from their first meeting, Shadow brings Tom to a graveyard at night. A terrified Tom discovers he must pay not with money but with his soul. But, as Shadow is about to take hold of him, Tom hears Anne’s voice in the distance and his past love is reawakened. Shadow, defeated, disappears into the ground. Tom survives, but he is now mad and is shut up in Bedlam. Anne comes there to comfort him, but there is little to be done. Her father arrives and persuades her to leave Tom to his fate.
Synopsis courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes
Meet the Artists
Recommendations for further reading, watching, and exploring from John Conklin, BLO Artistic Advisor
For an overview of the piece—libretto, sources, musical analysis, performance history—there are two good guides:
- OEDIPUS REX/ THE RAKE’S PROGRESS
English National Opera Guide
Nicholas John, editor
Riverrun Press, 1991
- THE RAKE’S PROGRESS
Cambridge Opera Handbooks
Cambridge University Press, 1982
Since Stravinsky’s artistic life and personality are such an integral part of the BLO production, here are some (among the very many) books on (and by) the composer:
- AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
W. Norton, 1936
Written in 1934 with brio and wit (and a certain delicious malice), this autobiography covers the first part of the composer’s extraordinary life.
Schirmer Books, 1992
A full account of his life and works—detailed and erudite but quite accessible.
- STRAVINSKY INSIDE OUT
Charles M. Joseph
Yale University Press, 2001
A penetrating and acute analysis of Stravinsky as perhaps the 20th century’s greatest composer (he himself certainly thought so) but also as a significant and influential cultural icon. This book reveals Stravinsky’s two sides—“the public persona preoccupied with his own image and place in history, and the private composer, whose views and beliefs were often purposely suppressed.”
And then there is Hogarth, the artist whose series entitled A Rake’s Progress provided the inspiration for the opera:
- HOGARTH: A LIFE AND A WORLD
Farrah, Strauss and Giroux, 1997
A quite vast (600 pages+) but eminently readable work by one of England’s most talented contemporary biographers. Hogarth’s life, times and influence certainly merit such fascinating attention. Michael Holroyd (himself a superb biographer) writes, “…it crackles with vitality and sparkles with insights. She recreates Hogarth’s mercurial genius most dramatically as well as the turbulent and sophisticated 18th-century world he inhabited.”
- THE FIRST BOHEMIANS: LIFE AND ART IN LONDON’S GOLDEN AGE
Penguin Books, 2013
This resource provides another look at the social milieu of Hogarth and the rake’s life that he portrayed. “An irresistible history, fizzing with life” (Philip Pullman); “…a superb chronicle of a golden age of authentic urban creativity” (Tristam Hunt, The Times).
- ENGRAVINGS BY HOGARTH
Edited by Sean Shesgreen
Dover Fine Art, 2013
101 prints, with introductions and comments on each by Sean Shesgreen (including the Rake’s Progress sequence). And there is a lot going on in each of Hogarth’s engravings…here expertly explicated.
Hogarth was not the only sharp observer and brutal satirist operating in the fertile field of 18th-century England. Thomas Rowlandson was one of the sharpest and often most startlingly brutal—some of his works will turn up beside Hogarth’s onstage in the BLO Rake’s Progress production.
- THOMAS ROWLANDSON: PLEASURES AND PURSUITS IN GEORGIAN ENGLAND
Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2011
A lavish illustrated exhibition and catalogue of Rowlandson’s often outrageous (and often very funny) work.
There are quite good outlines of the lives and works of both Stravinsky and Hogarth on Wikipedia:
And don’t miss these interesting clips on YouTube:
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