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Igor Stravinsky

The Rake's Progress

Igor Stravinsky -  The Rake's progress
Aix-en-Provence, 1992 cond. Kent Nagano
Tom Rakewell - Jerry Hadley
Ann- Dawn Upshaw
Nick Shadow - Samuel Ramey
Baba the turk - Victoria Vergara
Trulove - John Macurdy
Mother Goose - Joan Khara
Selem - Steven Cole

Mr. Igor Stravinsky is one of the most fascinating, most accomplished, and most varied of modem composers. His early works, like The Firebird, The Rite of Spring, and Petrouchka —all composed before World War I—have become something like popular classics. Since then he has composed in many other styles, none of them quite so popular, and he has half modeled much of his work on earlier music. “Neoclassical,” he has been called. The Rake’s Progress appears to be modeled on late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century opera—anything from Mozart to Rossini, or even Donizetti. Not that you can ever mistake him for these earlier men. It is rather—says one critic—almost as though you were listening to them through one of those crazy Coney Island distorting mirrors. You do have old-fashioned arias, recitatives, concerted numbers—but with what a difference!

The story of the opera is based on Hogarth's famous series of lithographs called The Rake’s Progress. Perhaps it would be better to say that it was inspired by that series, for it does not follow the narrative very closely. Rather, the mood, the setting, the morals, a few characters, and a few situations are the same. Mr. Stravinsky worked it out—in general—with the fine English-bom poet Wystan H. Auden, and Auden, in turn, worked out the details with another writer, Chester Kallman. It was done in English. Yet, even when it is sung in the original by an English-speaking cast, there is some difficulty in getting the words, for Mr. Stravinsky does not believe it is always wise to respect the accents of the language.



Opera in three acts by Igor Stravinsky with libretto in English by Wystan H. Auden and Chester Kallman suggested by William Hogarth’s lithographs of the same title

Trulove, a country squire
Anne, his daughter
Tom Rakewell, her sweetheart
Nick Shadow   
Mother Goose, a brothel-keeper
Baba the Turk, bearded lady in a circus 
Seleem, an auctioneer  

Time: 18th century
Place: England  
First performance at Venice, September 11, 1951,
in Eng
lish, the composer conducting


Bass. Father of Anne, he is worried about her forthcoming marriage to Tom Rakewell. Created (1951) by Raphael Arié.

Anne Trulove:

Soprano. Daughter of Trulove, she is to marry Tom Rakewell. He is tricked into going to London with Nick Shadow (the devil in disguise), and marries Baba the Turk. Worried at not hearing from Tom, Anne sets out to find him, but when she does he tells her he is married to Baba. Still in love with him, she tries to save him from the degenerate path along which he is going. By the time Anne catches up with Tom, he is insane in Bedlam. He thinks she is Venus come to rescue him and she tenderly sings him to sleep before leaving with her father. Arias: Quietly, night, find him and caress; I go to him; Gently, little boat. Created (1951) by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

Tom Rakewell:

Tenor. In love with Anne Trulove, he wishes he was rich. A strange character, Nick Shadow, tells him he has inherited a fortune. Shadow offers his services free for a year and a day and they leave for London. Tom undergoes various adventures: in a brothel he is initiated into a life of vice; he marries Baba the Turk; he loses all his money and becomes bankrupt. Shadow claims his soul in payment for his services and Tom asks to gamble for it. Tom wins, and angrily Shadow condemns him to a life of madness. In Bedlam, Anne visits him—Tom imagines he is Adonis and she is Venus. He sleeps, and when he wakes she is gone. Tom dies. Arias: Since it is not by merit; With roses crowned, I sit on ground, Adonis is my name. Created (1951) by Robert Rounseville.

Nick Shadow:

Baritone. He is the devil in disguise. By telling Tom Rakewell he has won a fortune and offering his services free for a year and a day, Shadow tempts Tom away from Anne, his bride‐to‐be, to a life of debauchery. When all Tom's money is gone, they play cards, the stake being Tom's soul. Tom wins and in anger Shadow condemns him to a life of insanity. Aria: I burn! I freeze! Created (1951) by Otakar Kraus.

Mother Goose:
The Rake's Progress ). Mez. Keeper of a London brothel who introduces Tom Rakewell to vice and debauchery.
Created ( 1951 ) by Nell Tangeman.


Baba the Turk:

Mezzo-soprano. A bearded lady in a circus, she is helped by Nick Shadow to become Tom Rakewell's wife. She does not reveal her beard until after they are married. Because her non-stop chatter drives him crazy, he repulses her and, furious, she storms around smashing various possessions. To stop her tirade of criticism and complaint in mid-word, he covers her face with a wig. When the wig is removed much later, she continues exactly where she left off. But Baba has a gentler side, and realising Anne is Tom's true love, encourages her to save him, herself returning to continue her circus career. Arias: Come, sweet, come; Scorned! Abused! Neglected! Created (1951) by Jennie Tourel.



Tenor. An auctioneer, he is to sell Tom Rakewell's possessions after Tom has become bankrupt. Aria: An unknown object draws us … fifty—fifty‐five, sixty. Created (1951) by Hugues Cuenod.


A Rake's Progress is a series of eight paintings by 18th-century English artist William Hogarth

The canvases were produced in 1732–34, then engraved in 1734 and published in print form in 1735. The series shows the decline and fall of Tom Rakewell, the spendthrift son and heir of a rich merchant, who comes to London, wastes all his money on luxurious living, prostitution and gambling, and as a consequence is imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and ultimately Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam). 



Scene 1 In an English eighteenth-century garden we find a couple of lovers billing and cooing. Their names—Tom Rake-well and Anne Trulove. Anne's father, on one side of the stage, expresses some doubts as to Tom's making a quite reliable son-in-law. He therefore—after Anne retires into the house—comes forth and offers Tom a good, steady job. The boy refuses; and when he is left alone, he sings a defiant aria, saying that he will rely on fortune. Only, he adds at the end, he wishes he had some money. Immediately, as in Faust, Nick Shadow appears (that's the Devil in disguise). He tells him, in the presence of Anne and Mr. Trulove, that a forgotten uncle has left him a fortune. This is the occasion for a quartet. Tom and Anne are, of course, delighted, but the father still has some doubts. It seems that it will be necessary for Tom to go to London to settle the business, and Nick offers himself as a servant. He even refuses to accept a definite wage. At the end of a year and a day, he says, Tom may decide what his services were worth. (Anyone who has read much about the Devil knows what that means.) As Tom goes off, Nick turns to the audience and announces: “The Progress of a Rake begins!”



Scene 2 is inspired by the Hogarth picture that takes the hero to a brothel. A bawdy contralto known as “Mother Goose” is the madam of the place, and at the moment a chorus of whores and so-called “roaring boys” (that is, eighteenth-century London no-goods) is hymning the delights of Venus and Mars. Tom Rakewell has been under the tutelage of Nick Shadow for a while now, and Nick gets him to recite a sort of catechism of evil. He successfully defines Beauty and Pleasure; but when he comes to Love, he falters, remembering, perhaps, Anne Trulove. He wishes to leave because it is getting late; but Nick sets the clock back, the general reveling begins again, and the young neophyte is introduced to the gang. Tom now recalls his vows of love in an aria notable especially for the rippling figure in the accompanying clarinet. For a short while Tom’s new acquaintances sympathize; but Mother Goose herself takes Tom in hand, and the scene ends gaily as the chorus sings the refrain of the old ballad of Lanterloo.

In the first painting, Tom has come into his fortune on the death of his miserly father. While the servants mourn, he is measured for new clothes. Although he has had a common-law marriage with her, he now rejects the hand of his pregnant fiancée, Sarah Young, whom he had promised to marry (she holds his ring and her mother holds his love letters). He will pay her off, but it is clear that she still loves him. Evidence of the father's miserliness abound: his portrait above the fireplace shows him counting money; symbols of hospitality {a jack and spit} have been locked up at upper right; the coat of arms show three clamped vises with the motto "Beware"; a half starved cat reveals the father kept little food in the house, while lack of ashes in the fireplace demonstrates that he rarely spent money for wood to heat his home. The engraving at the right shows the Father went so far as to resole shoes from a leather cover from a bible so as not to pay a shoemaker for repairs.


Scene 3 belongs almost entirely to Anne Trulove. She is in her garden, badly missing her Tom, from whom she has not heard, and she delivers a formal recitative and aria on this subject. There is a brief interruption from her father, and then—in old-fashioned Italian-opera style—she has a brilliant cabaletta to the aria. She resolves, in this finale, to follow Tom to London.

In the second painting, Tom is at his morning levée in London, attended by musicians and other hangers-on all dressed in expensive costumes. Surrounding Tom from left to right: a music master at a harpsichord, who was supposed to represent George Frideric Handel; a fencing master; a quarterstaff instructor; a dancing master with a violin; a landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman; an ex-soldier offering to be a bodyguard; a bugler of a fox hunt club. At lower right is a jockey with a silver trophy. The quarterstaff instructor looks disapprovingly on both the fencing and dancing masters. Both masters appear to be in the "French" style, which was a subject Hogarth loathed. Upon the wall, between paintings of roosters (emblems of Cockfighting) there is a painting of the Judgement of Paris.

The third painting depicts a wild party or orgy underway at a brothel. The prostitutes are stealing the drunken Tom's watch. On the floor at bottom right is a night watchman's staff and lantern-souvenirs of Tom's "Wild Night" on the town. The scene takes place at the Rose Tavern, a famous brothel in Covent Garden. The prostitutes have black spots on their faces to cover syphilitic sores.


Scene 1 Tom Rakewell hasn’t found much happiness in London, making his rake’s progress, and he complains about it as he sits at breakfast in his bachelor’s quarters. He does not even dare think of Anne; and at the words “I wish I were happy” Nick Shadow appears. He shows Tom a broadside, advertising a circus that features Baba the Turk, a bearded lady. In his aria Nick advises his master not to be bound by conscience. What, in fact, could be more fun than marrying the bearded lady? Again Tom falls under the spell of degeneracy that Nick Shadow throws about him, and the scene ends with a duet as his evil spirit helps Tom to dress and make ready to woo Baba.



Scene 2 takes place outside Tom’s London house. Anne has come to persuade him to return to the country, and she waits (for one aria) for him to come. As servants begin to carry packages into the house, she wonders what it is all about. She does not have to wait long. A sedan chair comes in and disgorges Tom. In the duet that follows, he begs her to return to the country, for he is not worthy of her. But Tom has not been alone in that sedan chair. Baba, the bearded Turk, sticks her head out; Tom admits that he has just married her; and in the ensuing trio Tom and Anne regret how things have turned out, while Baba expresses her dislike of being kept waiting. Finally Anne leaves, and Tom helps his rather spectacular bride out of the chair. As they enter the house, Baba unveils her beard for the benefit of the assembled crowd.

In the fourth, he narrowly escapes arrest for debt by Welsh bailiffs (as signified by the leeks, a Welsh emblem, in their hats) as he travels in a sedan chair to a party at St. James's Palace to celebrate Queen Caroline's birthday on Saint David's Day (Saint David is the patron saint of Wales). On this occasion he is saved by the intervention of Sarah Young, the girl he had earlier rejected; she is apparently a dealer in millinery. In comic relief, a man filling a street lantern spills the oil on Tom's head. This is a sly reference to how blessings on a person were accompanied by oil poured on the head; in this case, the "blessing" being the "saving" of Tom by Sarah, although Rakewell, being a rake, will not take the moral lesson to heart. In the engraved version, lightning flashes in the sky and a young pickpocket has just emptied Tom's pocket. The painting, however, shows the young thief stealing Tom's cane and has no lightning.


Scene 3 takes us into the not-so-happy home of Tom Rake-well and his bride. The recent benedict sulks at breakfast, while Baba jabbers away, in an aria, about the roomful of junk she has brought into Tom’s room—stuffed animals, china, gewgaws of all sorts from everywhere. Tom remains utterly uninterested, and finally she flies into a rage, smashing the worthless stuff. Spang in the middle of her tantrum, Tom covers her face with his wig, silencing her. Quite disillusioned, he goes to sleep, when Nick comes in silently with a strange machine. Into it he puts a loaf of bread and a sliver of china. A moment later Tom awakens to tell him of a dream about a machine that would change stone into bread and bring happiness to man. At once Nick turns the handle of his machine —and out comes the bread. Now, he suggests, Tom can make his fortune. Hadn’t he better tell his wife? "My wife?” asks Tom, “I have no wife. I’ve buried her.” And he points to Baba, still silent behind the wig.

In the fifth, Tom attempts to salvage his fortune by marrying a rich but aged and ugly old maid at St Marylebone. In the background, Sarah arrives, holding their child while her indignant mother struggles with a guest. It looks as though Tom's eyes are already upon the pretty maid to his new wife's left during the nuptials.


Scene 1 Things have gone from bad to worse with Tom. It is spring now—several months since the close of the last act. Baba still sits in the room, Tom’s wig over her face. But there is a crowd there too, for the contents of the room are about to be auctioned off. Among the crowd is Anne Trulove seeking her former fianc6, but nobody pays much attention to her. Then, enter Sellem, the auctioneer. In a fine, nonsensical patter-set to a silly waltz tune-he puts up an auk, a pike, a palm—even Baba herself, whom he describes simply as “an unknown object.” Much to everyone’s astonishment, she shoves aside her wig and begins singing in the middle of the phrase that Tom had interrupted months before.

Off-stage, the voices of Tom and Nick are heard singing a ballad. But the splendid bearded lady turns to Anne, says that she knows she loves Tom, and advises her to set him right. As for herself, Baba will return to the stage. Off-stage, Tom and Nick are heard again in their ballad, and Anne excitedly sings, to the assembled folk: “I go, I go, I go, I go to him!” As for Baba, she orders Sellem to get her carriage, shoos the crowd away, and tells them that next time they’ll have to pay to see her.


The sixth painting shows Tom pleading for the assistance of the Almighty in a gambling den at Soho's White Club after losing his "new fortune". Neither he nor the other obsessive gamblers seem to have noticed a fire breaking out behind them.


Scene 2 In a few bars of weird music for four string instruments Stravinsky sets the stage, which shows a dismal graveyard. Nick Shadow has served Tom for a year and a day. Now he demands his wages: Tom's soul. Still—he offers Tom a chance by playing a game of cards. As Anne Trulove’s voice is heard off-stage, Tom wins three games. Sworn love, says Anne, can plunder hell itself of its prey. Nick sinks into the grave he had intended for Tom, but before he disappears, the frustrated Devil strikes his former master insane.

For a few moments the stage is in darkness. When the lights come up again, there sits Tom, on the mound of the grave, truly mad. He is putting grass upon his head, thinking it roses; and as he sings his ballad (the tune heard in the previous scene) he calls himself “Adonis.”

All is lost by the seventh painting, and Tom is incarcerated in the notorious Fleet debtor's prison. He ignores the distress of both his angry new (old) wife and faithful Sarah, who cannot help him this time. Both the beer-boy and the jailer demand money from him. Tom begins to go mad, as indicated by both a telescope for celestial observation poking out of the barred window {an apparent reference to the Longitude rewards offered by the British government} and an alchemy experiment in the background. Beside Tom is a rejected play; another inmate is writing a pamphlet on how to solve the national debt. Above the bed at right is an apparatus for wings, which is more clearly seen in the engraved version at the left.


Scene 3 Our hero is now in Bedlam, the infamous lunatic asylum of eighteenth-century London. He still sings of himself as Adonis and asks his fellow madmen to prepare for his wedding to Venus. They only scoff; but soon the jailer brings in Anne Trulove. She addresses him as “Adonis”; he calls her “Venus.” It is a very odd love duet; and at its close she puts him on his straw pallet and sings him a soft lullaby. Her father comes to lead her home, and they bid the sleeping madman a farewell. When they are gone, Tom awakens and sings wildly of Venus, but his fellow madmen will have none of it; they do not believe she was there at all. Driven to com plete hopelessness, the broken man sinks back—dead.

But the opera is still not quite over. Composer and librettist wanted to be sure their opera was a “moral” one, and so there is a little epilogue, a quintet for all the principals—Tom, Nick, Baba, and the two Truloves. And the moral is this:


For idle hands
And hearts and minds
The Devil finds
A work to do.

Finally insane and violent, in the eighth painting he ends his days in Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam), London's infamous mental asylum. Only Sarah Young is there to comfort him, but Rakewell continues to ignore her. While some of the details in these pictures may appear disturbing to 21st-century eyes, they were commonplace in Hogarth's day. For example, the fashionably dressed women in this last painting have come to the asylum as a social occasion, to be entertained by the bizarre antics of the inmates.

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