Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress”: “No Word From Tom,” Dawn Upshaw

Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress, is a morality play with Faustian undertones. Its English-language libretto, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, tells the story of Tom Rakewell, a man who abandons his fiancée, Anne Trulove, to pursue a life of gambling and debauchery in the brothels of eighteenth century London. Urged on by Nick Shadow, a shady character who turns out to be the Devil in disguise, Tom ends up in the infamous London insane asylum of Bedlam. In the epilogue which concludes the third act, the characters come together to deliver the moral of the story: “For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds work to do.” The story is based loosely on a series of eight paintings and engravings by the eighteenth century English artist and social critic, William Hogarth (1697-1764). Stravinsky explored similar Faustian subject matter in his 1918 theatrical work, LHistoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale).

At the end of the first act, as night falls, Anne wonders why she has not heard from Tom. Intuitively, she understands that “to weep is not enough. He needs my help.” She vows to leave her father and travel from the countryside to London. (“Love hears, love knows, Love answers him, across the silent miles and goes”). The aria moves from anxiety to soaring heroism, concluding with the soprano’s high C.

Throughout The Rake’s Progress, intense drama is held at arms length and filtered through a lens of satire and irony. Elements of tragedy and comedy blend together. Stravinsky’s music is filled with allusions to Baroque opera, from melisma and word painting to recitative. As Anne asks the night and guiding moon for help, a mystical duet emerges between the soprano line and the bassoon.

Here is Dawn Upshaw’s 1989 recording with David Zinman and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s:

Recordings

  • Stravinsky: No Word From Tom (The Rake’s Progress), Dawn Upshaw, David Zinman, Orchestra of St. Luke’s Amazon

Featured Image: “The Heir,” the first painting in “The Rake’s Progress,” a series of eight paintings by the eighteenth century English artist, William Hogarth 1697-1764

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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