The Rake´s Progress


Monday, 16 September 2013
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Ever since he arrived in America in 1939, Igor Stravinsky was on the lookout for a subject for an English-language opera. When, in 1947, he saw William Hogarth’s series of engravings A Rake’s Progress (1733- 35) at the Chicago Art Institute for the first time he knew immediately that he had found the material he was looking for. The accurate satirical portrayals of London life in the period of burgeoning capitalism inspired him and his librettists to create a brilliant parable for the stage.

The young Tom Rakewell desires money and a life of debauchery. He finds the idea of regular work repellent. A mysterious stranger, Nick Shadow, presents him with a large inheritance. Shadow enters Tom’s employ as his servant, saying he will claim his wages at a later date. Tom accepts this apparently good arrangement and eaves his hometown and his beloved Anne Trulove to go to London with Shadow. But once there he falls in with bad company and squanders his inheritance. In the end he marries a grotesque woman whom he does not love, Baba the Turk. In the meantime, Anne Trulove is constantly searching for the man she loves. Finally, the devil – for this is who Nick Shadow really is – demands the payment due to him: Tom’s soul. In a card game, Tom is moved by thoughts of Anne, his true love, and manages to save both his soul and his life. However, the cheated Shadow robs him of his sanity. Tom finds himself consigned to Bedlam. He thinks he is Adonis who has been deserted by Venus. Anne visits and succeeds in soothing him for a few moments. But when she leaves, he dies.

During composition, Stravinsky undertook a thorough study of Mozart’s Così fan tutte and incorporated a wide range of different musical styles which are reflected by the literary allusions in the libretto. The result is a neo-classical parable for the stage with protagonists who represent particular characteristics and are not drawn with any psychological depth. They are, however, portrayed with dramatic power and sharp analytical/ satirical perception, in keeping with Hogarth’s series of engravings. Martin Kušej’s interpretation of the work brings the masterpiece into the present day, making it all the more disturbing and provocative.