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Introducing… The Rake’s Progress

Everything you need to know about The Rake's Progress, which is available to watch online for free as part of Glyndebourne Open House on Sunday 2 August

From Sunday 2 August at 5.00pm UK time you can watch The Rake’s Progress on YouTube for free.

In this instalment of our Introducing series we explore John Cox’s production featuring David Hockney’s much-loved designs.

The Rake’s Progress is part of Glyndebourne Open House – a weekly series of free operas, available on YouTube.

An exclusive new range featuring David Hockney’s iconic designs for The Rake’s Progress is available now from our online shop. Every purchase supports our work.

A brief introduction:

Igor Stravinsky’s only full-length opera, The Rake’s Progress (1951), is also one of the most original and provocative of the 20th century. Wit and postmodern irony meet a classic moral fable in a work librettist WH Auden described as a ‘mixture of fairy story and medieval morality play’.

Rejecting the dissonant, confrontationally avant-garde style of The Rite of Spring in favour of an apparently nostalgic, neo-classical one, the opera takes both its soundworld and structure from baroque and classical models. But all is not as it first appears.

Stravinsky’s Rake may revisit the past, but it’s in order to rethink the musical present. The opera takes inspiration from Mozart, but the result is as much a subversion, an interrogation as a pastiche. The characters may wear old-fashioned musical masks, but they are no period puppets; these are painfully real, flawed human beings whose tragedies are keenly felt, and whose ending is one of the most heart-breaking in the repertoire.

Why not to miss this production:

Premiered in 1975 and a fixture of the repertoire since, John Cox and David Hockney’s production of The Rake’s Progress has become one of Glyndebourne’s greats – a definitive staging that has since been seen all over the world from New York to Sydney, Milan to Tel Aviv.

Hockney’s cross-hatched 18th-century sets and costumes transform the opera into a living Hogarth etching, echoing the playful manipulations and distortions of Stravinsky’s score in their flattened, two-dimensional games of perspective.

Are these puppets or people? Is this a historical pastiche or a contemporary subversion? The production explores all the tensions and contradictions of this exhilarating piece. As artifice turns to truth, comedy to tragedy, the pastel colours fade to monochrome – life draining from this poignant opera before our eyes. It’s a devastating final gesture that completes this staging’s dramatic sleight-of-hand, transforming a witty, extravagant romp into something heartfelt and human.

In this short video, David Hockney and John Cox discuss the inspirations behind their classic production:

Designing The Rake’s Progress

A great moment to look out for

‘Gently Little Boat’, Anne’s Act III lullaby to the now-mad Tom, is one of the opera’s most beautiful arias. It’s a disarming moment of purity and absolute simplicity in this cleverest of scores – pure musical and emotional truth expressed in the most straightforward musical terms.

A lulling quasi-Purcellian lullaby melody is accompanied by flutes, and every stanza is answered by the chorus of madhouse residents, who are both soothed and elated by Anne’s song.

‘Gently Little Boat’

Cast and creative team

Former Glyndebourne music director Vladimir Jurowski ‘immaculately negotiates the score’s fine line between irony and sentiment’ with the help of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who ‘find character and colour in every phrase’.

An exciting cast is led by Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu as Tom Rakewell and Festival favourite Matthew Rose as Nick Shadow (‘outstandingly well sung’). Soprano Miah Persson is ‘tellingly feisty’ as Tom’s beloved Anne Trulove, singing ‘with gleaming attack’, while Elena Manistina brings ‘star quality’ to the role of Baba the Turk. Veteran bass Clive Bayley is a ‘suitably grave’ Father Trulove.

Image credits: The Rake’s Progress, Festival 2010 | Photos by Alastair Muir

Watch The Rake’s Progress for free on our YouTube channel from Sunday 2 August where it will be available for 7 days.

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