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Rake’s Progress review: Winning collaboration

Portland Opera's production of Stravinsky's opera makes a potent pairing with Portland Art Museum's Hockney exhibit.


Arts are often at their best and have the most longevity when they are a product of collaboration. The spring productions at Portland Art Museum and Portland Opera are a win-win-win collaboration: for audiences; for both arts organizations; and for the legacy of the artists themselves, past, present and future.

 Tom Rakewell (Jonathan Boyd) and Nick Shadow (David Pittsinger) in Portland Opera's The Rake's Progress. Photo: Karen Almond.

Tom Rakewell (Jonathan Boyd) and Nick Shadow (David Pittsinger) in Portland Opera’s The Rake’s Progress. Photo: Karen Almond.

This all began as a half-posthumous collaboration between Igor Stravinsky and 18th century artist William Hogarth. Stravinsky viewed Hogarth’s engravings in the Chicago Art Fair in 1947, and was moved to write an opera about the story the artist portrayed. A satirist, Hogarth was a Herblock or Thomas Nast,  a kind of voyeur of the social times and mores of his place and time. His best known series of these satires is The Rake’s Progress, his middle morality tale, sandwiched between The Harlot’s Progress and Marriage a la Mode.

Stravinsky went in search of a librettist. In 1948,  he was introduced to W.H. Auden by the writer Aldous Huxley, a Hollywood neighbor. The two artists hit it off and the operatic collaboration for The Rake’s Progress began. The opera premiered in Venice in 1951, directed by Stravinsky himself.

Fourteen years later, John Cox, director of Glyndebourne Festival in England, was in search of a way to revitalize the now-popular Rake’s Progress at its eighth British production of the opera since 1953. He invited British artist David Hockney to provide set and costume design and it was this collaboration that has traveled three more decades to Portland Opera’s production this weekend.