The Rake’s Progress

Art breeds art breeds art breeds art.

This one kicked off sometime before the 1730’s when the London artist and observer William Hogarth did the thinking that led to a series of paintings showing the progress – or perhaps lack of progress – of Tom Rakewell.

These paintings doubtless have their roots in older art. John Bunyan’s influential and moral Christian life journey story The Pilgrim’s Progress, which in turn come out of Dante and Everyman etc etc until we don’t have it written down anymore. The heroes journey. Let me just start grinding my Joseph Campbell again…

Hogarth painted his progress in living memory of Bunyan’s very different progress. Shortly afterwards, in France, Voltaire wrote his Candide. A new rash of these ancient allegorical journeys for the modern age of the mid to late 18th Century. Fables. Cautionary tales, perhaps. Hogarth was a very eloquent satirist for his time. The paintings survive, unlike his earlier “Harlot’s Progress” which was destroyed and exists only in etchings.

Cut to the 1950’s and Igor Stravinsky the Russian composer has ended up collaborating with WH “stop all the clocks” Auden – the extremely prolific Anglo American poet who is recently largely associated with one (excellent) work, for such is the power of cinema. Stravinsky has decided to make an opera of the Hogarth paintings, and pulls Auden and Chester Kallman in for the libretto. An opera in English, of these English cautionary paintings, and told with a twinkle in the eye. “For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds work to do,” the piece concludes. It premieres in Venice in 1951.

Cut to 1974. I get born. More or less around this time John Cox is the creative producer at Glyndebourne Opera House and he persuades the artist David Hockney to design a unique production of the Stravinsky. With all the sets painted by Hockney, all the props and busts and costumes, painted by Hockney, this show enjoys a good opening in 1975.

Cut to this evening.

This Hockney Opera has only been performed 146 times including tonight despite the age. We managed to get into the slips, right at the edge of the stage in the upper circle. Lou and I brought the average age of the audience down by a fair few years. The house was packed, and I reckon if we had pooled the collective wealth of everybody in that room we could’ve bought much of the Southern Hemisphere. The singers were running around with props that might have six figures next to their prices if they ever found their way to auction. I cricked my neck with the terrible view but, surprisingly, I loved it. “I don’t watch opera,” I’d have told you a year or so ago. My reason? “Too expensive. Not accessible. Nothing to recommend it.”

I like it now. I’ve loved these reasonably regular chances to witness opera done well without having to mortgage anything. I’m not immune to the fact I’m a lucky sod to have somebody able to get me these tickets. It would be good to see the shows somehow appealing and being accessible to people who are not so fabulously wealthy as most of the presentation and conversation I witnessed in those gardens today. But I guess with all the musicians and staff, and more silence about The Arts in today’s budget, the easy way for the model there to survive is to keep doing it like it has been. Rake’s is proof at least that it works. This show was conceived before I was born and I didn’t find it egregious. It was colorful fun. The singers were enjoying it. The house was enjoying it too. I would say go see it but you can’t. It’s about to go on tour. I think there’s one night where it’s affordable for under thirties. I imagine the rest of it is sold out already. And if it’s not it’s gonna be PRICEY.

Maybe also I loved it as I wasn’t paying, despite the restricted view. Free opera. Free hard to get opera.

My phone accidentally snapped the apron as I switched it to silent.


Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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