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‘The Rake’s Progress’

In the spring of 1947, Igor Stravinsky saw an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago featuring William Hogarth’s eight-painting series A Rake’s Progress, which depicts a young man’s descent into debt and madness in 1730s London. The Hogarth paintings inspired Stravinsky to write an opera that would incorporate eighteenth-century styles and forms. In need of a librettist, he asked for advice from his neighbor in Los Angeles, Aldous Huxley, who recommended the poet W.H. Auden.  

Each brought longstanding concerns to their collaboration. Stravinsky returned to themes he had explored in earlier balletic and operatic work, including Faustian bargains, operations of chance, and the downfall of the proud. Auden, who enlisted his friend and sometimes lover Chester Kallman to help with the libretto, infused the work with his own interests in Christianity, existentialism, and folk and poetic traditions.

The opera expands the story told in Hogarth’s series. In addition to the mysterious demon Nick Shadow who leads the protagonist, Tom Rakewell, astray, Auden and Stravinsky created the bearded and beguiling circus performer Baba Turk, whom Tom marries, and the vibrant huckster Sellem, who auctions off Tom’s possessions (including Baba) after he goes into debt.

The music of The Rake’s Progress—although indebted to Gluck, Moteverdi, and Mozart—displays the composer’s distinctive rhythmic complexity and harmonic inventiveness. It will be performed by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, lead by Tito Muñoz, Music Director of the Phoenix Symphony, and features Gilad Paz as Tom and Benjamin Bloomfield as Nick.

For more information, visit roulette.org.

Category: Music
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