The Rake’s Progress premieres on 18 January

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As the first premiere in 2015, the Hungarian State Opera produces The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky. So far it has only been featured in the repertoire of the Opera only once – it was put on stage 35 years ago. In the production by director Ferenc Anger two international guest artists make their Hungarian debut on 18 January 2015.

The Rake’s Progress is the adventurous story of Tom Rakewell whose life leads from easy-come wealth through prison to a madhouse. In 1947, Stravinsky saw a series of eight paintings entitled A Rake’s Progress by 18th-century English artist William Hogarth at a Chicago exhibition. According to the memoirs of the composer, seeing these pictures, he immediately began to transform them into operatic scenes in his mind.

Tom’s journey of self-discovery takes us through the great “catalogues” of the world. We can understand everything that surrounds us only by placing them into a system – says director Ferenc Anger. There are no objects, animals, concepts or phenomena that we cannot include in some kind of system. Almost every scene of this work presents a catalogue or a system. The brothel in Act One focuses on bodies. It is followed by the collection of Baba the Turk: the bearded woman’s objects, each of which represents a memory – that is, Baba herself, insofar as one is defined by his or her memories and past. (These are later auctioned and sold; similarly to the human bodies in the brothel.) Then we arrive at the graveyard: a collection of corpses, where bodies are present but souls are not. And finally, we come to the ultimate opposite of the brothel: the lunatic asylum, the collection of souls where the body and physical reality become utterly unimportant. These are the stations of self-discovery. This is life itself. The curiosity and yearning for knowledge that lead us along this road exists in all of us. Our desires are never simply “good” or “bad” – we carry both in ourselves. 

The Rake’s Progress means his Hungarian debut for Erik Nielsen. The Iowa-born conductor joined the Frankfurt Opera in 2002 and  was Kapellmeister there from 2008 – 2012.  He will take up the positions of Chief Conductor of Bilbao Symphony Orchestra from September 2015 and Music Director of the Theater Basel with effect from the 2016/17 season. In the summer 2007 he attended Tanglewood, conducting orchestral and chamber concerts and assisting James Levine with Don Carlos.  

In January 2009 Erik Nielsen made his London debut conducting The Magic Flute for English National Opera.  In September 2009 he was awarded the $25,000 Solti Fellowship by the US Solti Foundation.  In March 2010 he made his US opera début with Ariadne auf Naxos for Boston Lyric Opera which was followed by The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. He has since been a guest conductor at the world’s leading opera houses such as Théâtre du Châtelet Paris, Semperoper Dresden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Lisbon Opera, Malmö, Frankfurt, Zurich, Bregenz, Wels and Bilbao. In connection with the music of The Rake’s Progress Erik Nielsen states that For those of you who love the operas of Mozart, you will be reminded this evening of some of the strongest moments from Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro, and only through a few seconds of an introduction or by a

swift accompaniment figure in the strings. “I do not claim that The Rake’s Progress is “based” on Mozart, but rather that it is “contaminated” by him! When observing the many paintings of Picasso’s30 Cubist period, Stravinsky’s secret finds a suitable partner. Biologically speaking, there is a nose, but in the wrong place! The left and right eyes are switched! The lips are where they should be but much too large! We recognise the person in the portrait, but realise that the proportions and placement are all wrong, making the perspective change constantly.”

The title role of the 18 January premiere is performed by Péter Balczó. His love, Anne Trulove is originated by Eleanor Lyons. The Australian soprano is the first prize winner of the 2013 International Obraztsova Singing Competition. In the past year she has performed in Sydney, Tokyo, New York, Wexford, St Petersburg and Moscow. Now she is making her Hungarian debut on the stage of the Hungarian State Opera.

In further roles: Péter Kálmán (Nick Shadow), Andrea Meláth (Baba the Turk), Annamária Kovács (Mother Goose), András Palerdi (Trulove, Anne’s father), Dávid Szigetvári (Sellem, an auctioneer), János Fátray (Keeper of the Madhouse).

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