On Sunday, March 12th, 2023, at 8 pm, principal conductor Daniele Gatti, leading the Maggio Chorus and Orchestra, will be on the podium of the Sala Mehta for the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, the penultimate opera title of the Festival di Carnevale del Maggio. The production is entrusted to Frederic Wake-Walker, who returns to Teatro del Maggio after the staging of Roméo et Juliette staged during the 84th Festival del Maggio.
Four more performances are scheduled: March 14th and 16th, at 8 pm, and March 19th and 26th, at 3.30 pm.
On stage Matthew Swensen as the protagonist Tom Rakewell; Sara Blanch as Anne Trulove, his betrothed; Vito Priante is Nick Shadow; the role of Baba the Turk is played by Adriana di Paola. The character of Mother Goose has the voice of Marie-Claude Chappuis; Anne’s father, Father Trulove, is played by James Platt; Christian Collia takes on the role of the auctioneer Sellem and Matteo Torcaso, a talent from the Accademia del Maggio, plays the guardian of the asylum. Four soloists complete the cast from the Coro del Maggio: Giovanni Mazzei, Constanza Antunica, Antonia Fino and Nadia Pirazzini.
In this new production, sets and costumes are entrusted to Anne Jones, lighting to Charlotte Burton and the video department to Ergo Phizmiz.
The maestro of the Maggio Chorus is Lorenzo Fratini.
Thanks to the Fondazione CR Firenze, the performance of 16/03/2023 is offered to the public with a 50% discount on the price of tickets for each sector.
The Teatro del Maggio, on the occasion of Women’s Day, is offering all women, starting from March 8th, the chance to buy tickets for the performances of March 14th (8 pm) and March 26th (3.30 pm) at a 50% discount on the purchase of one or two tickets, by going to the Maggio Box Office or by using the discount code RAKEPROG803FESTDON on the Foundation’s website (maggiofiorentino.com).
The performance of March 12th 2023 will be broadcast live on the radio on Rai Radio 3.
The presentations to the public of the performances held by Katiuscia Manetta, Maddalena Bonechi and Marco Cosci also continue before each performance: the guides are held in the Foyer of the Sala Zubin Mehta and the Gallery Foyer of the Sala Grande about 45 minutes before the start of the performance.
The Rake’s Progress returns more than forty years after its last Florentine performance in a new staging designed by Frederic Wake-Walker and conducted by principal conductor Daniele Gatti. The opera, which saw its first performance in Florence in June 1968, conducted by Heinrich Hollreiser and directed by Günther Rennert, will be staged at the Maggio for the fourth time. After its debut, it was revived twice more: in 1972, conducted by Ettore Gracis under the direction of Virginio Puecher and in May 1982, conducted by Riccardo Chailly in Ken Russel’s historical production. The Rake’s Progress was composed by Igor Stravinsky after his move to the United States, inspired by a series of engravings by William Hogarth describing the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell, a spendthrift who squanders his possessions by ending his days in an asylum.
The libretto was written by the British poet Wystan Hugh Auden, who was also joined by Chester Kallmann, and, as Maestro Daniele Gatti points out, it is perfectly intertwined with the main theme to which the Festival di Carnevale is dedicated: “The myth of Faust, to which the Festival is dedicated, also returns in an evident way in the plot of Rake’s Progress, which we can define as a modern version of Doctor Faust: here too we find the figure of the tempting devil, ‘embodied’ by the character Nick Shadow, who offers the protagonist an extraordinary and overwhelming change of life, but at a very high price: the soul. With Stravinsky’s opera, we are, therefore, perfectly in keeping with the theme of the Festival, which recently saw the performance of another rarely performed work, Ferruccio Busoni’s Doktor Faust” close the. The maestro then continued his analysis by also highlighting the importance of the programme for the March 10th concert he is conducting, which precedes the première of Rake’s Progress by two days, compositions selected to tie in with Stravinsky’s work: “Speaking of Stravinsky’s production, the longest period that we can note is the so-called neoclassical period that covers almost thirty years, from the early 1920s to the early 1950s. Of the early compositions that mark this part of his oeuvre, Pulchinella, which closes the concert on March 10th, is one of them, while Rake’s Progress marks the end of the neoclassical phase of Stravinsky’s work, ideally ending a musical journey. I find it really interesting to ‘anticipate’ the Rake’s with a concert that perfectly matches and strongly focuses on aesthetics, also featuring Vivaldi’s Concerto grosso in D minor and Bach’s Jauchzet Gott Landen, ‘teasing’ the audience with a small but intriguing two-evening musical journey through a crucial musical period in Stravinsky’s life”.
Frederic Wake-Walker, in his third production at the Maggio after performances of Adriana Lecouvreur in May 2021 and the recent Roméo et Juliette, the second title of last year’s 84th Festival del Maggio, is directing The Rake’s Progress. Wake-Walker and his team attached great importance to the visual aspect of the opera, considering the visual and non-written source exploited by Stravinsky: “From my point of view, the evolution of the protagonist, Tom, is a real journey of detachment: Tom Rakewell disconnects himself from nature, from love and also from himself; by the end of the opera he will have truly lost everything. The opera is tragic, unfolding behind the story of this young man and his fall, but it is also incredibly funny and enjoyable as if it were a strange and beautiful fusion of tragedy and comedy. Stravinsky and Auden, the author of the libretto, were living in California when they wrote the opera: one of the main themes is the criticism of American capitalism following the war’s end. That is why I think it is important for a present-day director to reflect this criticism of the capitalism of the times in which we live. Today, this work really has a strong meaning: it is a story of disconnection. I believe that our capitalist system, especially with technology, has disconnected us from ourselves and nature. This production, therefore, wants to criticise these elements of our lives individually. The set design uses a large amount of screens: it starts in a natural and very naive environment representing the countryside and the world of Anne and her father, Trulove. From the moment we ‘go’ to London, the environment becomes more digital and artificial: it represents an immoral and corrupt city and this ‘disconnected’ digital world in which we now live. So we tried to be inspired by visual elements from the 18th century, from the 20th century and also from the contemporary world, combining them, just like Stravinsky did with music.”
On stage, in the title role of Tom Rakewell, is Matthew Swensen, who returns to the Maggio shortly after last spring’s concert conducted by Sir Mark Elder and just over a year after last November’s Falstaff, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, which was triumphantly received by audiences and critics alike. Speaking about his character, and the path to perdition and detachment through which his story unfolds, Swensen said he was struck by how, especially in today’s world, so many people can find themselves in Tom: “I think that in one way or another, everyone can partly identify with Tom’s character and the situation he goes through: He initially wants money, then to be happy and to be able to change the world by inventing an improbable machine that will turn stones into bread and make him famous; only to finally realise the superficiality of all his desires. Only at the last moment, when it is too late, does he realise that he really wanted to be with Anne, in their home, in peace, wanting nothing more than that. I think that, with due differences, everyone can somehow ‘find themselves’ in Tom’s experiences”.
At his side, in the role of his betrothed, Anne Trulove, is Sara Blanch: after her successes in Lo sposo di tre, e marito di nessuna staged in January 2022 and in Orphée et Euridice, the opening title of the 84th Festival del Maggio, also directed by maestro Daniele Gatti, she returns to the stage of the Sala Mehta. “It is indeed a great pleasure to return here at the Teatro del Maggio and to do so with an opera as interesting as The Rake’s Progress and with a splendid cast”, said Sara Blanch. “Anne is a character who, in the course of the plot, faces situations, mainly related to love, that are truly unpleasant. Despite this, she maintains a balance and does not lose herself, keeping her light and even passing it on to Tom. Anne always gives an idea of naturalness, contact with nature and the ‘good’ side of life, a detail that we also find perfectly in her musical parts and phrasing”.
Vito Priante plays the diabolical Nick Shadow, who, by putting himself at the service of the protagonist Tom, will eventually lead him into the void of perdition. On the subject of his role, the Artist says: “My character, the diabolical Nick Shadow, is a real shadow, as his surname already suggests: in fact, he weaves the plot of his real goal ‘in the dark’ behind the back of the protagonist Tom Rakewell, whom he serves, aiming in reality to take his soul. From a certain point of view, analysing the essence of the role, we can say that Nick Shadow is, from the outset, ‘already part’ of the protagonist of Rake’s Progress: almost a way of implying that a darker part actually lurks within each of us, manifesting itself or not depending on the occasion. Occasions that, in the plot, are maliciously exploited by my character to deviate Tom from the rosy and peaceful perspective of life that seems to await him at the beginning of the play; and it is by exploiting Rakewell’s ambition, promising him easy success, women and above all fame and wealth, that Nick manages to put him on the road to detachment and almost complete ruin”. Priante made his Maggio debut more than two decades ago, in December 2001, in Benjamin Britten’s Morte a Venezia, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti and directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, and most recently starred in February 2018 in Gaetano Donizetti’s La favorite, staged under the baton of Fabio Luisi and directed by Ariel Garcia-Valdès.
The ambiguous character of Baba la Turca, the bearded woman whom Tom, once he arrives in London, will even end up marrying on Nick’s advice, is played by Adriana di Paola, who returns to the Maggio after her debut in March 2015 in Henry Purcell’s Dido and Æneas, directed by Stefano Montanari and conducted by Marina Bianchi.
Marie-Claude Chappuis, who plays Mother Goose, the brothel owner, another place on Tom’s road to perdition, also returns to the Maggio a few months after her concert last April directed by Sir Mark Elder.
James Platt, making his debut on the stage of the Teatro del Maggio, plays the father of the libertine Tom’s fiancée, i.e. Father Trulove; Christian Collia, like Matthew Swensen, also starring in the Falstaff staged in November 2021, takes on the role of Sellem, the auctioneer, and Matteo Torcaso, a talent from the Accademia del Maggio, plays the guardian of the asylum where Tom Rakwell will eventually end up.
Four soloists from the Maggio Chorus complete the cast: Giovanni Mazzei, Constanza Antunica, Antonia Finoand Nadia Pirazzini.
After moving to the United States in 1939, Igor Stravinsky entertained the idea of writing an opera in English. The project took shape only a few years later when in 1947, the composer was struck by William Hogarth’s cycle of canvases on display at the Chicago Art Institute, which depicted the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell. This spendthrift squanders his possessions recklessly and ends his days in an asylum. Stravinsky immediately considered making it into an opera and turned to the British poet Wystan Hugh Auden for the libretto, who Chester Kallmann also joined. In March 1948, the libretto was ready, while Stravinsky took more time for the music, finishing the score only three years later. The Rake’s Progress premiered at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice on September 11th, 1951 with the same composer on the podium. Organised in arias, recitatives, choruses and ensemble pieces in line with the eighteenth-century theatrical scheme, the work shows a decidedly retrospective character. It represents the last stage of Stravinsky’s ‘neoclassical’ period. And suppose the declared model of reference is the theatre of Mozart and Da Ponte – in particular Così fan tutte – in Rake’s Progress. In that case, numerous quotations and references to different epochs and composers are piled up, underlining Stravinsky’s ability to organically assimilate every element of the musical tradition.