I'm in that strange time in the life of an opera.... the show has opened, so rehearsals are over, and after a couple of days of rest and recovery, I am suddenly adrift in unaccustomed free time, with my work duties limited mostly to show days. Don't get me wrong, I have a million things I SHOULD be doing, but somehow I am fairly useless, mostly reading, diving the internet rabbit holes, feeling bereft. After a day or so, I will get truly sick of this and find some project to dive into, but for now I am just flirting with productivity..... polishing up a cut list here, typing translations there, reading old blog posts. Like you do.
This morning I looked at my various posts on "opera" and was pleased to find so many of the program notes I've written over the years. It was a real walk down memory lane for me, and brought back so vividly my concerns about each of these special shows.
Ironically, I did not manage to post my notes from what was arguably one of my most satisfying projects to date: The Rake's Progress at Wolf Trap Opera. Perhaps because I struggled so mightily with them, and the opera itself. Wrestling that beast was a massive task. haahaha. So, without further ado....
|In the graveyard: Craig Colclough, Eric Barry |
(pic by Kim Witman)
A Hero for Our Time? Looking at Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress
On the heels of World War II, Stravinsky and Auden offer us a frothy confection concealing a rather grim modern outlook. Listening to the score, one is immediately aware of the dichotomy presented by its creators. Relying on classical forms and textures, Stravinsky nonetheless has created a musical world all his own, one that sounds vaguely familiar, yet is askew and often unsettling. Similarly, Auden’s libretto features a flowery language that calls to mind times past, but the content is modern, with a complex psychological viewpoint. The two paint a hero who, while beautifully constrained in the trappings of a traditional classical opera, struggles to find meaning and purpose in a world that simply does not make sense anymore. An unlikely hero, but one that may be all too familiar for today’s audience.
The perhaps ironically named Tom Rakewell actually does not do “rake” very well. To quote the opera itself, “He’s but a shuttleheaded lad: Not quite a gentleman, nor quite completely vanquished by the bad.” Tom has everything going for him… looks, charm, a nice inheritance, the love of a good woman… but he cannot seem to find the internal motivation to realize his full potential as a human being. He thinks he will find meaning in material pursuits and schemes, but it all ends in ruin. Unlike many of opera’s rakish bad boys, he has a conscience, and that makes Tom a decidedly modern hero, with a decidedly modern resolution… that is to say, not a clear one at all. Rather than finding greatness in true love, heroic deeds or other traditional operatic pursuits, Tom’s only real quest is to save himself…and he cannot.
Our production seeks to illustrate visually the musical and dramatic complexities found in the score. The story begins in a dreamlike place. While firmly rooted in the familiar, it is almost too perfect. Tom’s departure from the country means a shift from his classical norms. His world becomes more surreal as he struggles to appropriate the values of a more modern existence. The people he encounters on his progress are not quite “real,” but symbols of his experience. The opera proper ends where it began: with Tom, alone, gazing into the fathomless sky, full of questions that will not be answered.