“For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds work to do”. Igor Stravinsky saw William Hogarth’s set of eight 18th century paintings and engravings of London life and created a groundbreaking opera on them. WH Auden’s poetic English libretto resonates with the speech and danger of those London streets. The Rake’s Progress is a devastating morality play, packed with wit, satire, high comedy, and tragedy. It dances on a pin of laughter and ridicule. Stravinsky’s score is a modern Mozart opera, infused with delicious parody and celebration of the earlier genius’ music. This new production will be created by the celebrated prize-winning director/designer Antony McDonald. Tom Primrose, our 2023 chorus master, conducts. The cast is a roll-call of British stars. Emerging tenor Adam Temple Smith and Alexandra Oomens, critically praised as Euridice and Belinda in our 2023 Double Bill, sing the young lovers Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove. Scottish/Iranian bass-baritone Michael Mofidian is Nick Shadow; Rosie Aldridge Baba the Turk, Catherine Wyn-Rogers Mother Goose and John Graham Hall the Auctioneer, Sellem. Tears of laughter and sadness will flow in equal measure.
- Composer — Igor Stravinsky
- Librettists — W. H. Auden & Chester Kallman
- Orchestra — Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
- Sung in — English
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- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
~ Act I ~
In the garden of her father’s country house, Anne Trulove and her fiancé, Tom Rakewell, celebrate springtime. Trulove, who has doubts about Tom’s character, has arranged an accountant’s job for him in the city, but Tom declines the offer. Alone, he declares his intention to trust his good fortune and enjoy life. When he expresses his wish for money, a stranger appears and introduces himself as Nick Shadow. He tells Tom that a forgotten uncle has died, leaving him a fortune. Anne and Trulove return to hear the good news. Shadow suggests accompanying Tom to London to help settle his affairs, and Tom agrees to pay him for his services in a year and a day. As they leave, Tom promises to send for Anne as soon as everything is arranged. Shadow turns to the audience announcing, “The progress of a rake begins.”
At a brothel in the city, Tom recites the catechism Shadow has taught him to the madam, Mother Goose: to follow nature rather than rules and to seek beauty and pleasure. When asked about love, he becomes momentarily terrified. He is eager to escape as the clock strikes one, but Shadow turns it back an hour and assures Tom that time is his. Tom responds with reflections on love, which he feels he has betrayed, but then accepts Mother Goose’s offer to spend the night with her.
As night falls, Anne wonders why she hasn’t heard from Tom. She leaves her father’s house, determined to find him.
~ Act II ~
Tom, in his house in the city, is bored and disillusioned with his decadent life and no longer dares to think of Anne. He pronounces his second wish: for happiness. Shadow appears and shows him a poster of Baba the Turk, a bearded lady on display at the fair. He suggests that Tom marry her to express his freedom and thus know true happiness. Amused, Tom agrees.
Anne comes to Tom’s house, surprised to see servants enter with strangely shaped packages. Tom arrives in a sedan. Startled at the sight of Anne, he declares himself unworthy and tells her to leave and forget him. Baba calls out from the sedan, and Tom admits to the astonished Anne that he is married. Both wonder what might have been, while Baba interrupts with impatient remarks. Anne faces reality and leaves, as a crowd of passers-by hails Baba.
In his morning room, Tom sits sulking while Baba chatters away. When he refuses to respond to her affection, she complains bitterly. Tom silences her, then falls into an exhausted sleep, as Baba remains motionless. Shadow wheels in a strange machine that seems to turn stones into bread. Tom awakes, saying “I wish it were true”—only to realize that the machine is what he saw in his dream. Elated, he wonders if in return for doing one good deed he might again deserve Anne. Shadow points out the device’s usefulness in fooling potential investors.
~ Act III ~
Tom’s business venture has ended in ruin and his belongings—including Baba, who has remained in the same position—are up for auction. As gossiping customers examine the objects, Anne enters looking for Tom. The auctioneer, Sellem, begins to hawk various articles. When the crowd bids for Baba, she resumes her chatter and, indignant at finding her possessions up for sale, tries to order everyone out. She advises Anne to find Tom, who still loves her. Tom and Shadow are heard singing in the street and Anne rushes out after them while Baba makes a dignified exit.
Shadow has led Tom to a graveyard with a freshly dug grave and reminds him that a year and a day have passed and his payment is due. Tom must end his life by any means he chooses before the stroke of midnight. Suddenly, Shadow offers an alternative: they will gamble for Tom’s soul. Placing his trust in the Queen of Hearts, Tom calls upon Anne as her voice is heard. The defeated Shadow disappears, condemning Tom to insanity in retaliation. As dawn breaks, Tom imagines himself Adonis, the lover of Venus.
In an insane asylum, Tom awaits his wedding to Venus, mocked by the other inmates. The Keeper admits Anne. Believing her to be Venus, Tom confesses his sins, and for a moment they imagine timeless love in Elysium. Tom asks her to sing him to sleep. The other inmates are moved by her voice. Trulove comes to fetch his daughter and Anne bids the sleeping Tom farewell. When he wakes to find her gone, he cries out for Venus as the inmates mourn Adonis.
~ Epilogue ~
The principals gather to tell the moral of the story. Anne warns that not every man can hope for someone like her to save him; Baba warns that all men are mad; Tom warns against self-delusion, to Trulove’s agreement; Shadow mourns his role as man’s alter ego. All agree that the devil finds work for idle hands.
Casting TBA Keeper of the Madhouse