Just what transpires between the beautiful spring morning which opens The Rake’s Progress and the Bedlam asylum where the libertine’s career comes to an end? Tom Rakewell comes into the property of an imaginary uncle, wallows in debauchery, marries the bearded lady from the Saint-Giles fair and tries to save the world by inventing a machine that can transform stone into sliced bread.
Looking for a common theme in Hogarth’s paintings which originally inspired his opera, Stravinsky had a brilliant idea: saddle his hero with a Devil who doubts his own existence but who orchestrates the fable of desire and failure. Tom Rakewell is but a shadow of the flamboyant libertine who invited Death to his table: he becomes the puppet of his contradictory desires. Aspiring to save humanity and in a headlong rush to lose himself, he embodies 20th century man and this is precisely what moves us.
Laced in the corset of the pre-formatted works of the 18th century, The Rake’s Progress is haunted by baroque music and Mozartian opera. The composer plays with his models just as the Devil plays with his hero– plunging us into a fantastic world in which allusion often proves to be illusion.
A game perfectly served by Olivier Py’s stagecraft, which incorporates the codes of musical comedy and makes this Rake’s Progress the theatre of a lucid and sardonic world.