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Tom Rakewell?

Opera details:

Opera title:

The Rake's Progress


Igor Stravinsky




The Rake's Progress Synopsis


The Rake's Progress Libretto


Not entered yet.

Recitative details:




Tom Rakewell / Nick Shadow


Tenor / Baritone or Bass



Previous scene: Since it is not by merit
Next scene: Fair Lady gracious gentlemen

Hidden treasures - Igor Stravinsky - The rake's progress (1951) - "Gently, little boat"

Singer(s): Bryn Terfel Ian Bostridge

History: When World War II broke out in September 1939, the composer Igor Stravinsky moved to the United States, becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1945. At first his output was focused on orchestral works, notably the Symphony in Three Movements (1942-45). But on May 2, 1947, after encountering the William Hogarth's cycle "A rake's progress", Stravinsky found himself with the idea of writing a full-length opera in English. The composer subsequently sought out a collaborator to write an adaptation of the suggested plotline in Hogart's paintings, finally approaching the English poet W.H.Auden. During a week together in November they prepared a draft scenario that was close to the final outline of the opera's narrative. Stravinsky then embarked on the composition of the opera without a definite prospect of performance, though in the end he found no less a venue than the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, which staged the work on September 11, 1951. The opera was later presented in Edinburgh, Geneva, Paris, Strasbourg, Vienna and across Germany during 1952 and reached the Metropolitan Opera in New York in February 1953. It remains to this very day one of the select few modern operas which have found a more or less permanent place in the standard repertoire.

Narrative: The librettist fashioned out of Hogarth's cycle a most interesting cross between a traditional 18th century moralistic tale and a modern psychological drama. Still, the London misadventures of Tom Rakewell (tenor) and the deus-ex machina of the whole work, the demonic Nick Shadow (baritone), which include an incomprehensible marriage to the bearded Baba the Turk (mezzo-soprano) are presented in an exceedingly sarcastic light which is at ill-sorts with the deeply moving drama of Anne Truvole (soprano), the hero's faithful lover. Nothing speaks clearer of the mixed final message of the work than the denouement when the whole cast, just moments after the tearful parting of the lovers and Tom's shocking death, reappear to take their bow and state in an upbeat ensemble the moral of the tale - "The devil finds work for idle hands"...

Music:... still, Stravinsky's work is one of the most tantalizing of its kind, a neoromantic opera offering a curious mixture of secco recitative, modernist accompaniments, set-piece arias and unconventional harmonies with a number of fine pages. In the present case, we will focus on what is probably the score's most heartbreaking moment: Anne's tearful lullaby to Tom which effectively forms the heart of the final scene in Bedlam. Strikingly, the number in question presents in its modest textures and clear lines an antithesis to the familiar double aria with which the heroine closes Act One. The latter is a piece of grander proportions and more elaborate means, yet it is the cavatina that provides the greater emotional impact. The aria is set in three simple stanzas, as Anne paints for Tom, convinced that he is Adonis and she - his beloved Venus, an ideal Arcadian landscape where "lion, lamb, and deer, untouched by greed or fear, about the woods are straying". Each verse of the lullaby is followed by a hushed chorus for the madmen of Bedlam who take notice of the melody and seem to briefly leave their delirium in awe of the music. The text's rustic notions of peace, barren of any decorative wordplay, are replicated by a strikingly traditionalistic accompaniment for two flutes, seemingly a throwback to the naïve romantic preference of the instrument to represent the descent into madness. However, the use of this familiar gesture is remarkably affecting: both flutes effectively follow the soprano voice, the first enchantingly echoing Anne in a luminous elaborated variant, while the second moves through a warm simplification of the theme which almost forms a bass line to the higher lines. Thus, we are presented with three almost simultaneous statements of one melody, introducing a distinct feeling of regret to Anne's highly lyric outpouring which is both an effective contrast to the jagged textures of the remaining scene and one of the finest modern soprano arias.

Score: The score is yet to become available in public domain.

Recording: The 1999 Deutsche Grammophon recording of the complete work is a remarkable achievement for John Eliot Gardiner who leads a fine ensemble formed from the London Symphony Orchestra, the Monteverdi Choir and a cast of such well-established singers, as Ian Bostridge, Bryn Terfel and, above all, Deborah York (a perfectly sincere Anne) through a committed reading, fully attuned to Stravinsky's neoclassic score.

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Tom Rakewell?


I seek Tom Rakewell with a message.
Is this his house?

No, not his house.
But you have found him straying
in his thoughts and footsteps.
In short...

You are he?

Yes, surely.
Tom Rakewell at your service.

Well, well.
Nick Shadow, sir,
and at your service.
For, surely as you bear your name,
I bear you a bright future.
You recall an uncle, sir?

An uncle? My parents never mentioned one.

They quarrelled, I believe, sir.
Yet he...
sir, have you friends?

More than a friend.
The daughter of this house and ruler of my heart.

A lover's fancy and a lovely thought.
Then call her.
Indeed, let all who will,
make their joy here of your glad tidings.

English Libretto or Translation:

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