Courtesy of Matt Fried, Yale School of Music

Performing at the Shubert Theatre on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18, the Yale Opera is presenting Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress.” This production will be the Opera’s first performance at the Shubert Theatre in four years, following its presentation of “Florencia en el Amazonas” in Feb. 2020. 

Fate, greed and willful ignorance collide in Stravinsky’s opera. “The Rake’s Progress” follows Tom Rakewell, a man of modest means who, tempted by a promised inheritance, must reconcile with the consequences of his choices. His interactions with Nick Shadow, a mysterious but persuasive figure symbolizing the Devil, explore the role of free will in every aspect of life. Rakewell ultimately abandons his existing relationships and responsibilities, verging on insanity by the end of the opera. 

Audiences bear witness to the repercussions of his eagerness for power, without its prerequisite effort, as they are accompanied by undercurrents of a more ominous deal. 

“It is weird. It’s funny, you know. It’s bizarre, but it’s really just grounded in real human emotions and a really clear narrative through life, ” Ethan Burck MUS ’24 said, speaking about the opera’s Faustic cautionary tale. 

Burck, who fell in love with “The Rake’s Progress” in the final year of his undergraduate experience, is pursuing a master of musical arts degree in opera at the School of Music and will sing the role of Tom Rakewell during the Sunday performance. This production will be the second time that he has performed the role in five years, though he mentioned that his approach to understanding the character has changed. 

This grounding of what is profoundly human in fantastical composition is inherent to Stravinsky’s work, which notably includes the ballets “The Rite of Spring” and “The Firebird.” His instrumental and vocal compositions have received critical acclaim, and he is considered one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century and in modernist music. 

His works are highly celebrated, earning the Royal Philharmonic Society’s gold medal, Léonie Sonning Music Prize, Wihuri Sibelius Prize, five Grammy Awards, induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame and posthumous reception of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Stravinsky’s neoclassical composition of “The Rake’s Progress” is rooted in traditional operatic convention, taking influence from Mozart. His compositions employ unconventional rhythmic elements and melodic dissonances to forge a characteristic style from the inspiration of his predecessors. 

The opera’s baroque backbone, combined with Stravinsky’s distinct experimentation, allows every reproduction to take on its own interpretation.  

Daniela Candillari, the opera’s conductor, agreed, citing Stravinsky’s dynamism as its attraction. 

“For me, it … has to do with the architecture of music. Conducting is so much about listening and guiding,” Candillari, who also made a debut at the Metropolitan Opera with Matthew Aucoin’s “Eurydice,” said. “I’m always curious as to what new elements I will hear and how that will influence the shape of the next phrase? Or the timing? Or what other colors can be influenced by that? It really depends what the players give, and what the vocalists give. And I think that’s the exciting part of performing, sort of being in that constant, invisible conversation and connecting those dots.”  

The decision-driven interpretations of “The Rake’s Progress” apply to other aspects of production as well.  

Director Danilo Gambini DRA ’20 worked with set designer Suzu Sakai DRA ’24 to visually communicate the opera’s ingenuity. 

According to Gambini, he gives himself the challenge of making opera accessible to all and ensuring that everyone who attends will experience “exciting,” “impactful” and “potent” elements.

Over the COVID-19 pandemic, however, opportunities to create and share these elements were halted, Gambini noted.

“If dance is the art of movement, if painting is the art of colors, if music is the art of sounds, theater, and by extension, opera, is the art of togetherness. There must be a very strong reason why we as artists are asking people to leave the comfort and safety of their homes and of their screens, to come and experience togetherness,” he said.

Tickets for “The Rake’s Progress” are available for purchase by website or at the box office of the Shubert Theatre. 

The Shubert Theatre is located at 247 College St.