In a departure from the more traditional fare of 18th and 19th century operas which characterise the 2018-2019 season, Nice Opera presents Stravinsky’s mid-20th century creation, The Rake’s Progress – a new production for the Company.
This three-act opera represents the somewhat unlikely combination of talents of 18th century English painter, William Hogarth, English-American poet W H Auden and his frequent collaborator Chester Kallman, and Russian-American composer Igor Stravinsky. Composed between 1948 and 1951, The Rake’s Progress was based on a series of eight engravings by Hogarth – entitled A Rake’s Progress – which depicted the descent into insanity of a wealthy but profligate young heir, who squandered his fortune on gambling and a life of pleasure, ultimately leading to his downfall.
Acknowledged as one of the 20th century’s most important and influential composers, Igor Stravinsky – also a pianist and conductor – started composing in 1898 and continued producing his hugely diverse range of compositions until 1961. Among these were the ballets he wrote for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes – The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring and Apollo – and New York City Ballet has over 30 works in its repertoire set to the music of Stravinsky. Choreographer George Balanchine had a particular affinity for the work of his fellow countryman, and some of his best-known ballets were inspired by the music of Stravinsky – Danses Concertants, Orpheus, The Cage, Agon, the Rubies variation from Jewels, Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Concerto for Two Solo Pianos among them.
When Stravinsky saw the Hogarth works in an exhibition in Chicago in 1947, he was quick to note the potential for an operatic work. He was introduced to W H Auden by a friend, the writer Aldous Huxley, and Auden – together with poet, librettist and translator Chester Kallman – produced a libretto which differed in many respects from the original.
The opera’s anti-hero, Tom Rakewell – weak, cynical and lazy – deserts Ann Trulove, the girl he was intending to marry – and is led astray by a character called Nick Shadow, who tricks him into believing that he has come into a fortune left him by a wealthy uncle. He persuades Tom to employ him as his manservant, and accompany him to London. There Tom sinks into a life of sleaze and depravity, and ultimately – in a graveyard encounter – discovers that Nick is the devil. Nick condemns Tom to a life of insanity, before he himself disappears into the ground, and Tom is incarcerated in the Bedlam asylum. Anne, who has followed Tom to London, tries to comfort him, but realizing that she can do nothing for him, she leaves, and Tom dies.
The Rake’s Progress premiered at Teatro La Fenice in Venice on September 11th, 1951, with tenor Robert Rounseville as Tom, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Anne.
In this production for Nice Opera, tenor Julien Behr takes the title role. Named ADAMI’s revelation ‘lyric artist’ in 2009, Julien Behr and was one of the three nominees in the ‘revelation lyric artist’ category at the Victoires de la musique classique in 2013. He is well known for his roles in Mozart’s operas, his favorite role being Tamino in The Magic Flute, which he has sung for companies such as Rouen Opera, Opera National de Bordeaux, Paris Opera and Minnesota Opera. He has also appeared on the stages of major opera houses such as La Fenice in Venice, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Opera National du Rhin, Cologne Opera, the Salzburg Mozartwoche, the Theater an der Wien,and the Barbican Center.
Highlights of this 2018/19 season for Julien Behr include the world premiere of Michael Jarrell’s Berenice for Paris Opera, a performance of Laertes in Hamlet at the Opéra Comique, and the role of Tamino at the Mostly Mozart festival in New York. This appearance as Tom Rakewell marks his debut in the role.
Coloratura soprano Amélie Robins has a wide repertoire of performances in her portfolio. They range from operatic roles in works by Mozart, Donizetti, Massenet, Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and Gounod, to the operettas of Strauss, Offenbach and Lehár, and leading roles in musicals such as Bernstein’s Candide and West Side Story, Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, and Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady.
Ms Robins sang Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Armel Opera Competition at the Opera of Budapest and Cluj in Romania in 2014, and was awarded the prize for French Interpretation at the Bellini International Competition at Marseille Opera in 2016. This performance as Anne Trulove in The Rake’s Progress also marks her debut in the role.
The role of Nick Shadow is taken by bass-baritone Vincent le Texier, whose repertoire ranges from the baroque – Rameau’s Platée – to Mozart – Leporello in Don Giovanni – to 19th century operas such as Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Der Freischütz, La Damnation de Faust, Faust, Carmen, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, La Bohème and Don Quichotte. He has also appeared in 20th century works such as Pelléas et Mélisande, Salomé, The Love of Three Oranges, Wozzeck, and The Makropoulos Case.
French mezzo-soprano Isabelle Druet sings Baba the Turk – the bearded lady – Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Kamelia Kader is the whore Mother Goose, bass Scott Wilde is Father Trulove, and Sellem the auctioneer, is sung by lyric tenor, Frédéric Diquero.
Austrian conductor Roland Böer leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of Nice Opera in performances of The Rake’s Progress on the 1st, 3rd and 5th of March. It is sung in English with French surtitles. Staging is by Jean De Pange, decor and costumes by Mathias Baudry, lighting by Hugo Oudin and choreography by Claire Richard.
A high demand for tickets is anticipated, and they may be reserved by calling 04 92 17 40 79 or visiting the Opera Nice website where more information on this production can be found.
Lead image Jean De Pange courtesy Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur