Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus,” the play “Damn Yankees” and even the song “Sympathy for the Devil” have haunted us through the years with different depictions of the devil bewitching us through the power of temptation. We are certainly intrigued by this figure, who embodies evil and seduction, who repulses and attracts us all at once.
The Rake’s Progress
Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
We are again confronted with a tale of desire and the consequences of a man who succumbs to the devil in the opera “The Rake’s Progress,” which is opening at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre tomorrow. The University Opera Theatre and the University Philharmonic Orchestra are collaborating in presenting this 1951 opera composed by Igor Stravinsky.
The opera revolves around three characters: the betrothed Anne Trulove and Tom Rakewell, and the devilish figure of Nick Shadow, who draws Tom to the city of London to embark on a life of debauchery and knavery. Tom distances himself from Anne, captivated by Shadow’s lures, yet pleasure never finds him. Will Tom simply fall victim to a life devoted to Shadow or will an inner strength persuade him to think otherwise?
Stravinsky is an acclaimed composer whose works include the very percussive and dramatic section of the Disney film “Fantasia.” In “The Rake’s Progress,” which was his largest operatic work, Stravinsky experimented with the neoclassical opera form of the 18th century. Associate Music Prof. and director Robert Swedberg explained that Stravinsky’s opera closely resembles Mozart in the shape, length and construction of its arias and ensembles.
“It will sound in some ways like a Mozart-style opera, but it has the 20th-century flavor and character of Stravinsky. It’s an interesting combination,” Swedberg said.
The 18th-century painter William Hogarth created eight paintings called “The Rake’s Progress.” These works became the basis for the narrative of the opera.
Swedberg mentioned that the graphics designer Lisa Buck studied these original Hogarth paintings and then incorporated fragments of these etchings into her own designs for the settings of the scenes. Her interpretations have deep, rich colors reminiscent of a German expressionist style. Three projection screens will project these images throughout the show, providing a multimedia element to the performance.
Even though the costumes are reflective of traditional 18th-century dress, Swedberg said the attire will have a 20th-century flair as well. Rather than dressing each character in multiple colors, each individual will appear wearing a solid color. The hues and textures connect with contemporary times, but the form of each costume piece harkens back to this specific period.
A central aspect of the opera is the exploration of a man’s response to greed and how that greed affects him.
“The moral of the piece is that ‘for idle hands and hearts and minds, the devil finds a work to do,’ ” Swedberg said. “One should be perfectly happy with what one has already, but being offered (what is) a step above or beyond or maybe just out of reach (leads to) disaster, which is what happens to Tom. We see contemporary parallels to what happens in this 18th-century setting, and it’s very interesting in that way.”