The Rake's Progress

The Rake's Progress

"The Rake's Progress" is an opera in three acts and an epilogue by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman is based loosely on the eight paintings and engravings "A Rake's Progress" (1733–1735) of William Hogarth, which Stravinsky had seen on May 2, 1947, in a Chicago exhibition.

The story concerns the decline and fall of one Tom Rakewell, who deserts Anne Trulove for the delights of London in the company of Nick Shadow, who turns out to be the Devil. After several misadventures, all initiated by the devious Shadow, Tom ends up in Bedlam, a psychiatric hospital south of London. The moral of the tale is: "For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds a work to do."

Performance history

It was first performed in Venice on September 11, 1951, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf premiering the role of Anne Trulove and Robert Rounseville as Tom Rakewell. It was first given in Paris at the Opéra-Comique on June 18, 1952, under the baton of André Cluytens and produced by Louis Musy. The American premiere was on February 14, 1953, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conducted by Fritz Reiner and produced by George Balanchine. Although the BBC had previously produced a studio recording (broadcast on January 2, 1953), the first staging in England was by the Cambridge University Opera Group, and opened on December 19, 1956. In 1957, it was a part of the first season of the Santa Fe Opera under the direction of John Crosby, who persuaded the composer to attend rehearsals. Stravinsky returned to the SFO each summer through 1963. In 1961, Ingmar Bergman produced the opera at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, where it opened on April 22. For the noteworthy 1975 Glyndebourne Festival Opera production, sets and costumes were designed by David Hockney.



Act 1

Tom Rakewell is courting Anne Trulove outside her father's house in the country. Trulove has doubts about his daughter's proposed marriage and tries to arrange a regular job for Tom; but he resists the idea and, left on his own, declares his intention to "live by my wits and trust to my luck." When Tom expresses his wish for money, Nick Shadow appears and tells him that an unknown uncle has left him a substantial fortune. He then invites Tom to employ him as a servant and go with him to London to sort out his inheritance. The second scene, set in Mother Goose's brothel, shows Shadow introducing his new master to the sleazy aspects of London life. But Tom is uneasy and laments his betrayal of love, yet accepts Mother Goose's invitation to spend the night with her. Meanwhile, back in the country, Anne wonders why she has not heard from Tom. She knows somehow that he is in danger, and sets out for London to aid him.

Act 2

Tom is bored with his dissolute life. He utters his second crucial wish, for happiness, whereupon Nick makes the odd suggestion that he demonstrate his freedom by marrying Baba the Turk, the famous bearded lady. Soon afterwards Anne finds Tom's London house, only to see him emerge from a sedan chair which also contains Baba, whom he has just married. Tom tells Anne to leave, yet genuinely regrets what has happened. In the next scene Tom is clearly finding his eccentric marriage intolerable, as Baba is a chatterbox with a fiery temper. He silences her by throwing his wig over her face, then falls asleep. Nick enters with a "fantastic Baroque Machine" and demonstrates how, through the use of a hidden compartment in the machine, it appears to turn stones into bread. Tom cries out in his sleep that he wishes it were true, and waking, finds the machine he has dreamt of. Nick hints that if such machines were mass-produced Tom could become a saviour of mankind and Tom sets out to market the machine, not knowing it is a sham.

Act 3

The plan has failed - the act starts with the auction of the ruined Tom's property by the maniac auctioneer Sellem. The objects for sale include Baba, who has remained immobile since being silenced by the wig. When unwrapped, she resumes her tantrum, now directed at the auction-goers for disturbing her belongings, but calms down when Anne enters. Baba advises her to find Tom and "set him right", and warns her against Nick Shaddow. She announces her intent to return to her life on the stage. In a graveyard, Nick reveals his identity and demands Tom's payment - with his soul - for a year and a day of service; but as midnight strikes, Nick offers him an escape in the form of a game of cards, which Tom wins, thanks to the benign influence of thoughts of Anne. Defeated, Nick sinks into the ground, condemning Tom to insanity as he goes. Consigned to Bedlam, Tom believes he is Adonis. Anne ("Venus") visits him, sings him to sleep, then quietly leaves him. When he realizes she has gone, he dies. In an epilogue, the principal characters point out the simple moral: that the Devil finds work for idle hands.

Noted arias

* Shadow's Aria ("I was never saner.")
* Shadow's Departure ("I burn! I freeze!")
* Anne's Aria ("No word from Tom.")
* Tom Rakewell's Aria ("Here I stand...")
* Baba the Turk's Aria and Monologue ("As I was saying, both brothers wore moustaches...")


Shadow (goading Tom into further ridiculous behavior): :"No eye his future can foretell":"No law his past explain":"Whom neither Passion may compel":"Nor Reason can restrain".

elected recordings

There have been more than half a dozen recordings of the opera. The Gala recording of the 1951 live performance is available. Sony recording is from London 1964 and is conducted by Stravinsky himself.


*Fuller, John. "W. H. Auden: A Commentary". London: Faber and Faber,1998. ISBN 0571192688 (cased); ISBN 0571192726 (pbk). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998. ISBN 0691004196 (cased); ISBN 0691070490 (pbk.)
* Griffiths, Paul, with Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft, and Gabriel Josipovici. "Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress". Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, London, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne, Sidney: Cambridge University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-521-28199-7
*Mendelson, Edward. "Later Auden". London: Faber, 1999. ISBN 0571197841. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1999. ISBN 0374184089

External links

* [ The W. H. Auden Society]
* ["The Rake's Progress Libretto"] at Opéra National de Lyon

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