By Kerrianne Tupac
The University of Michigan University Opera Theatre presents Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress. A cautionary tale about a life of indulgence, The Rake’s Progress plays March 22 at 7:30PM, March 23 & 24 at 8PM, and March 25 at 2PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor. Associate Professor of Music Robert Swedberg, whose work was last seen in Little Women in March 2011, directs. Martin Katz, Professor of Music, conducts the University Philharmonia Orchestra. The opera is double cast. Sung in English, the performances will feature supertitles by Professor Swedberg.
Composer Igor Stravinsky is one of the giants of 20th century music. Born in St. Petersburg, he emigrated to the United States in 1938. He composed extensively for dance, including The Firebird and The Rite of Spring for Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes and Perséphone and Agon with George Blanchine. His only full-length opera, The Rake’s Progress, was inspired by a series of engravings by English painter William Hogarth (1697-1764). Created as an illustrated story, the precursor to comic strips and graphic novels, Hogarth’s prints were widely circulated and popular throughout England. When Stravinsky recognized the potential for an opera within Hogarth’s series, his friend Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) recommended British poet W. H. Auden as librettist, who later brought his lover Chester Kallman into the project. Over a three-year period, the trio worked on the project. The opera premiered at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice in September, 1951, with the composer conducting.
Librettists W. H. Auden and Chester Simon Kallman achieved individual acclaim for their poetry before beginning their collaboration in the late 1930s. Born in Birmingham, England, Wystan Hugh Auden wrote over 400 poems, plays, librettos, and essays collaborating with such artists as Christopher Isherwood and Benjamin Britten. Auden won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1948 for his The Age of Anxiety. Just before World War II broke out, Auden emigrated to the United States where he met Kallman.
Born in Brooklyn, Kallman received his B.A. at Brooklyn College and his M.A. from the University of Michigan. He published three collections of poems, Storm at Castelfranco (1956), Absent and Present (1963), and The Sense of Occasion (1971). Together Kallman and Auden would collaborate on librettos for The Rake’s Progress, Elegy for Young Lovers (1961), The Bassarids (1966), Love’s Labour’s Lost (1973), and The Entertainment of the Senses. The duo also collaborated on a number of libretto translations, notably Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni. Kallman’s translations of Verdi’s Falstaff (1954), Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea (1954), Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle are used regularly by opera companies.
“This is the only musical work I know that was inspired by artwork, or this case, etchings,” states Maestro Katz, who personally owns a set of Hogarth’s series. “Usually an opera comes from a written work. The etchings follow the rise and fall of Rakewell – he’s paid the price, giving up his reality because of accepting fame and fortune from the devil. Musically, there is more to this particular opera than singing beautiful melodies and being romantic. It has all sorts of rhythmic and diction challenges – to find the pitches and the rhythms is a brutal task in this opera.”
The Rake’s Progress concerns a callow young man, Tom Rakewell, who is convinced that good fortune will simply come his way. His loving fiancée Anne Trulove stands by him, but her father is not so easily swayed. When a mysterious stranger, Nick Shadow, announces that Tom has inherited a fortune from an unknown relative, Tom willfully abandons Anne and sets off to London. Once there, the gullible Tom is lured by Shadow into a life of debauchery. As each incident leads to increased unhappiness and deepening humiliation, Tom is unable to bring himself to return to Anne, even though she attempts to save him. When the devilish Shadow offers him a way out, Tom finds himself in a game of chance with extraordinarily high stakes.
Joining Swedberg and Katz on the artistic team is guest scenic designer Russ Jones, an Associate Professor of Theatre at Purdue University, with projection designs by guest Lisa Buck. Christianne Myers, Assistant Professor of Theatre, designs costumes with a lighting design by junior Engineering student Charles Malott, who both worked previously on Trumpets and Raspberries.
Wig and makeup design is by Erin Kennedy Lunsford (Falstaff). The Assistant Conductor, Yaniv Segal, a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate in conducting, will conduct the performance on Sunday, March 25.
Following the performance on Friday, March 23, there will be a post-performance discussion moderated by Swedberg and featuring members of the cast. Curtain Call Fridays offer an opportunity for audience members to talk with artists about each production. Sponsored by the Friends of Opera, the discussions are free and open to all.
Tickets for The Rake’s Progress are $26 and $20 reserved seating with students $10 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at tickets.music.umich.edu. The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, located within the Michigan League at 911 N. University Ave., is accessible to patrons in wheelchairs and features an infrared assisted listening system.