The Rake's Progress
New Production Theater an der Wien, Co-Production with Opernhaus Zürich
Two hearts beat in one breast: one of them wants a well-ordered life, the other tends towards vice and immorality. A Rake’s Progress, a series of eight satirical and socially critical copperplate engravings by the English artist William Hogarth inspired Igor Stravinsky to compose his only full-length opera after he had seen them at an exhibition in the Chicago Art Institute. Together with the librettists Auden and Kallman, Stravinsky created a comedy laced with wicked, black humour that relates in episodes the disreputable career of a ne’er-do-well who has come into wealth through an inheritance.
Tom Rakewell sets out to put the fear of God into others: by means of an inheritance, not much work and a great deal of fun and games he achieves renown of dubious merit in a brothel. He is advised and encouraged in his dissipation by Nick Shadow, a shady character who lures him away from his betrothed Anne Trulove and couples him instead with a fairground freak, the bearded and fiery Baba the Turk. After further escapades that drive Tom to bankruptcy, Nick turns out to be the devil himself, out hunting for souls. With Ann’s aid Tom succeeds in saving his soul, but not his sanity: he dies in a lunatic asylum.
“Let us return to the old masters, then we’ll make progress!” said Stravinsky, and in the music he composed, tongue in cheek, for The Rake’s Progress he took Handel and Mozart, Rossini and Bellini as his guides. In keeping with the anachronism he intended he wrote a neo-classical, rhythmically complex number opera with self-contained arias, duets and choruses.