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The Rake's Progress by Igor Stravinsky

Aspen Music Festival
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Performers listed below.

Stravinsky got the idea for The Rake's Progress when he visited the Chicago Art Institute in 1947 - eight years or so after he moved to the United States. In Chicago, the composer saw the series of engravings called "A Rake's Progress" by William Hogarth. They depict a young man who inherits a fortune, seduces a young woman, squanders the fortune, and winds up in an asylum. Stravinsky had been thinking about writing an opera in English, and decided Hogarth's pictorial story would make a good subject.

Then he got some key advice from one his neighbors in California, the author Aldous Huxley. His suggestion was that the poet W. H. Auden might make a good librettist for the project. He was right. In just a week's worth of meetings, Auden and Stravinsky had sketched out the entire opera, scene by scene. The finished libretto was given to Stravinsky early in 1948. The opera itself was completed in 1951, when this "American" opera, by a Russian composer, inspired by a British artist, had its world premiere - in Venice.

Sound complicated? Well, it is, a little. But The Rake's Progress is a paradoxical opera in lots of different ways - and not just because it's a neo-classical piece written by a man who became famous as a musical revolutionary, or because it has an English libretto set by a Russian composer who made his name in Paris. Its more important paradoxes are thematic. The drama is full of typically "universal," operatic themes and messages -- like, "Idle hands are the devil's playground," and, "true love conquers all." Yet, these "morals" often seem to be contradicted by the opera's overall effect: by W. H. Auden's wry libretto and Stravinsky's multi-faceted score.

Sure, the opera does give the Devil his day. But when it's all said and done he basically gives up and goes away. The opera also seems to tell us that, sometimes, love does not "conquer all." Instead, it simply makes us crazy. How crazy? Hear for yourself, in a production of The Rake's Progress from the Aspen Music Festival, this week on World of Opera, with Lisa Simeone and Steve Curwood.

Kerri Marcinko (Anne Trulove); Judith Anne Metzger (Baba the Turk); Soon Cho (Mother Goose); Michael Slattery (Tom Rakewell); Eric Lodal (Nick Shadow); Young Bok Kim (Father Trulove)


  • Aspen Music Festival
  • Synopsis at the Metropolitan Opera site
  • NPR At the Opera