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The Rake's Progress

Premiere September 11, 2010

Opera. . The devil himself leads young Tom Rakewell into ruin in Stravinsky’s master piece from 1951. A moral fable with comical elements and musical nods to the great composers of the time.

Opera in three acts by Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971).

Watch a movie from the performance.

Igor Stravinsky’s demonic/comic opera The Rake’s Progress is a 19th century masterpiece. The music is composed as a melodic flirt with the composer’s classical predecessors, but with Stravinsky’s added twist. We follow the young Tom Rakewell’s descent into ruin following his inheritance of a large sum of money. Tom is enticed by the mysterious Nick Shadow who ensures that Tom gets everything he takes a fancy to. Tom abandons his fiancée Anne and leaves for the big city with Nick to live a life of luxury and disorder. But the misadventures amount and it turns out that Nick Shadow is no less than the devil himself...

The Russian composer was inspired to create The Rake’s Progress by eighteenth century artist William Hogarth. When Stravinsky saw some of his satirical, moralising series of pictures in a museum in Chicago in 1947 he immediately thought of transforming them into an opera. He contacted the poet W.H. Auden, who in three months wrote a libretto in close cooperation with the composer himself and the music writer Chester Kallman. Creating the composition then took three years as Stravinsky wanted to write a classical opera with recitations, arias, duets and trios, choruses and orchestral intermezzos.

David Radok, director
David Radok, director

David Radok, First Director at The Göteborg Opera, has produced The Rake’s Progress in conjunction with scenographer Lars-Åke Thessman and costume designer Karin Erskine. The production is a joint venture with Det Kongelige Teater (The Royal Theatre) in Copenhagen, where the production premiered on February 9, 2010.

At the world premiere of The Rake’s Progress in Venice in 1951 the composer conducted it himself. The Swedish premiere, at the Royal Opera in 1961, was directed by Ingmar Bergman. Now you finally have the chance to see The Rake’s Progress at The Göteborg Opera.

Behind the scenes.

Costume sketches by Karin Erskine.

Rakes Progress, costume sketches by Karin Erskine
Rakes Progress, costume sketches by Karin Erskine
Rakes Progress, costume sketches by Karin Erskine
Rakes Progress, costume sketches by Karin Erskine

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky is commonly named among the greatest and most famous composers of the 20th century. The son of an opera singer, he was born in Russia in 1882 and later studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov. The Russian Ballets and its leader Diaghilev took an early interest in Stravinsky. The Russian Ballets (Ballets Russes) performed in Paris, and Stravinsky composed a number of works for them within a short period of time: The Firebird (1910), Petruschka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). The latter caused scandal when first performed, but later became a success and is considered one of his most famous compositions. It is based on pagan rites and the concept of releasing primal forces. The enormously complicated rhythm with its constant change of metre has sometimes been described as drawing a circle with a straight ruler.

At the start of World War I Stravinsky permanently left Russia and later became resident of France, where he also received citizenship. The scarce resources during World War I led Stravinsky to create compositions for small and simple orchestras. Examples include The Soldier’s Tale (1918). These led to a new phase for Stravinsky, his neoclassical period, in which he used older classical forms in a more contemporary fashion. The ballet Pulcinella (1919) was inspired by 18th century composer Pergolesi; the oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927) by the ancient dramatic Sophocles; and the Symphony of Psalms (1930) on Latin Bible texts given a Russian Orthodox touch by Stravinsky himself.

Even his most famous opera The Rake’s Progress, first performed in 1951 at Teatro La Fenice in Venice in English, is very much neoclassical. He and librettist W.H. Auden were inspired by 18th century artist William Hogart’s picture series The Rake’s Progress. The music draws its inspiration from the music forms of the 18th century, with recitatives, arias and cavatina; and so does the orchestra ensemble which includes a harpsichord. The opera became an enormous success and was performed all over Europe within a short space of time. Stravinsky came to see the first Swedish production, directed by Ingmar Bergman, at Kungliga Operan (The Royal Opera) in 1961. He proclaimed it the best performance of the opera he had ever seen. At this point Stravinsky had become a US citizen and developed an interest for dodecaphony. He continued to travel for much of the time and often visited Europe. Many recordings of Stravinsky conducting his own compositions have been made and are available both in CD and film format. In several documentaries he also showed a deep and dry sense of humour. He passed away in New York in 1971.


  • Genre: Opera
  • Season: 2010/2011
  • premiere: 11 Sep 2010
  • Last show: 12 Nov 2010
  • Location:

    Main Stage

  • Length: 3 hours incl. pause


Conductor   Okko Kamu
Director   David Radok
Set design   Lars-Åke Thessman
Costume design   Karin Erskine
Light design   Torkel Blomkvist
Choreography   Håkan Mayer

Role list

Truelove   Mats Persson
Anne   Ingela Bohlin
Tom Rakewell   James Edwards
Nick Shadow   Åke Zetterström
Nick Shadow (from 23/10)   Matthew Rose
Mother Goose   Marianne Schell
Baba the Truk   Ulrika Tenstam
Sellem   Ingemar Anderson
Mentalhospitals, principal    Sven Törnell
The Göteborg Opera Chorus
The Göteborg Opera Orchestra


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