The Rake’s Progress, Opera by I. Stravinsky
When Igor Stravinsky gazed upon a half-dozen of William Hogarth’s 18th-century engravings and paintings, a devilishly good idea came to him: an opera about an ordinary man whom the Devil himself lures down a path of sin, depravity and eventual insanity. This, in a nutshell, is the basis of The Rake’s Progress. Stravinsky made quick work of the composition, and the premiere at Teatro La Fenice in Venice on 11 September 1951 was a riot. An American debut, produced by none other than George Balanchine, followed in 1953 at the famed Metropolitan Opera. The Rome Opera House revives The Rake’s Progress in celebration of Stravinsky’s diabolical genius.
To put Hogarth’s evocative artworks into writing for the operatic stage, Stravinsky turned to the contemporary poets W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. Their rhymes and metaphors proved a great match for the composer’s energetic score. Look out for the impressive arias ‘Come, master, observe the host of mankind’, ‘I burn! I freeze’, ‘No word from Tom’, or ‘Love Too Frequently Betrayed’ that span the emotional gamut to deliver carefully crafted character-building, foreshadowing and skilled dramaturgy.
The Rake’s Progress finds its main character in Tom Rakewell, a careless man who leaves fiancée Anne Trulove for a series of shindigs around London. At all times, Nick Shadow eggs Tom on. Unbeknownst to anyone, however, Shadow is the Devil himself. As Tom and Nick’s adventures escalate more and more, the truth is revealed, and Tom’s soul becomes a bargaining chip in a game of cards. How will the depraved downfall of Mr Rakewell end? Will Anne Trulove find it in herself to forgive and pull him out of the sinful mire? On the stage of Teatro Costanzi, Stravinsky’s mesmerising opera The Rake’s Progress has the answer. Head over there for a performance full of fantastical encounters, devilish fun and supreme neoclassical music and poetry all rolled into one.