Opera Profile: Stravinsky’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’

By David Salazar

Stravinsky wrote a number of operas, but none is more potent or famed than “A Rake’s Progress,” a Faustian tale with the simple moral that “the Devil finds work for idle hands.” The opera first premiered in Venice on Sept. 11, 1951, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Anne Trulove. It came to the US in 1953.

Short Plot Summary

At the start Tom is courting Anne Trulove but resists the idea of taking on a real job, instead opting for his wits and luck. Suddenly Nick Shadow appears, telling Tom of a mysterious uncle who has left him a fortune and even offering himself as a servant who will accompany him to London. Tom is initially reticent about engaging in the seedy lifestyle of London but ultimately gives in.

He then asks for happiness and Shadow suggests he marry Baba the Turk, a bearded lady. Anne seeks out Tom but finds him in married life with Baba. He tells her to leave, but regrets his decision. He dislikes Baba. Tom dreams of a machine that turns stones to bread and awakens to find it. Shadow convinces Tom that mass producing the machine could turn him into a savior and so he obliges, not realizing the trap he has stepped into.

The result is that Tom starts Act 3 destitute. Baba, who has been silenced in the previous act goes on a rampage until meeting Anne and asking her to set Tom right. Shadow reveals his identity and demands Tom’s soul in a graveyard. Shadow offers salvation in the form of a card game, which Tom wins thanks to Anne. But as he sinks into the ground, he condemns Tom to madness. Tom eventually dies thinking he is Adonis.

Famous Musical Numbers

The opera has a number of major musical numbers throughout including Nick Shadow’s famed arias “I was never saner” and “I burn! I freeze!” Anne’s famous number is “No Word from Tom” while Baba the Turk gets her famous monologue. Tom himself also gets the famed musical number “Here I stand…”

Watch and Listen

Below is a performance from 1992 with tenor Jerry Hadley in the title role while Sam Ramey plays the villainous Nick Shadow and Dawn Upshaw as Anne.


Opera Wiki