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Opera in three acts
Libretto by W. H. Auden & Chester Simon Kallman
First performed September 11th 1951, Teatro La Fenice, Venice
Sung in English with German surtitles.
c. 2hrs 45 mins, including one interval
Trulove Alfred Reiter
Ann Trulove Kateryna Kasper / Elizabeth Reiter
Tom Rakewell Theo Lebow
Nick Shadow Kihwan Sim
Mother Goose Barbara Zechmeister
Baba the Turk Tanja Ariane Baumgartner
Sellem Peter Marsh
Keeper of the madhouse Barnaby Rea
Stravinsky was inspired to compose this opera after seeing „A Rake's Progress“ - a series of eight engravings pouring scorn on society by the English artist William Hogarth – at an exhibition at the Chicago Art Instute in June 1947. Tom Rakewell, the easy going, eponymous hero is engaged to Anne Trulove. He meets Nick Shadow - the devil in human form - who brings news of sudden wealth. Nick promises to serve Tom for a year, for which he is to be paid in a year and a day... Stravinsky and his librettists W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman created an episodic comedy peppered with black humour to convey the downfall of a good-for-nothing.
Tom and Anne are in love. His physical curiosity increases. She defends her honour. Anne’s father doubts Tom's constancy and wants him to start earning a decent wage before marrying Anne. Tom hates the idea. Nick Shadow tells Tom that he must go to the city to claim a large inheritance. Tom places his trust in Nick and, with promises of plans for their future together, takes his leave from Anne. Mother Goose’s brothel Nick made sure that Tom quickly forgot Anne and took up lessons in carnal love. When Tom is asked what love is he is overcome by painful memories of Anne. Desperate and overwhelmed he gives up his belief in true love and loses his innocence. Anne has heard nothing from Tom but is sure he needs her. ACT 2 Pleasures in the city no longer appeal but going back to Anne seems impossible. When Tom wishes, out loud, that he could be happy, Nick gives him an idea: Tom could make an unusual marriage - to Baba the Turk, a star of doubtful attractiveness. Outside Tom’s house Anne is scared that Tom might be under some sort of evil influence. When they finally come face to face she hardly recognises him. Newly married to Baba the Turk, he tries to persuade Anne to go home. Curious onlookers ask to see Baba’s physical peculiarity. Their desire for sensation is satisfied. Instead of becoming free and famous through Baba, Tom finds himself caught up in a middle-class marriage. Baba, who gave up her career for him, gives vent to her frustration. Tom shuts her up and dreams that he becomes worthy again of Anne's love as a bringer of salvation to mankind. Nick leads him to believe that this is attainable with the help of a machine which turns stones into bread. ACT 3 Tom invested the rest of his inheritance in the mass production of the supposed wonder machine and is bankrupt. Angry people examine his worldly possessions. Baba reappears at the climax of the auction and warns Anne about Nick Shadow. She intends to leave Tom and go back to show business. A graveyard Shadow makes Tom see that he has forfeited his life. They play for Tom’s soul. Tom, against reason, believes in salvation through love. A madhouse When Anne appears Tom begs for her forgiveness. Memories of the happiness they once shared are revived, but it is too late for a future together. Anne sings Tom to sleep. His heart breaks when he realises that she has left him.