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Igor Stravinsky [1882-1971]

¤  The Rake’s Progress   [excerpt]

Premiered in Vienna in 1951, The Rake’s Progress is one of the few modern operas that has a permanent place in the repertories of most contemporary opera companies. The Rake’s Progress is a masterpiece by two towering figures of the 20th century: the Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky and the British poet Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973).

It was inspired by the 18th century equivalent of a comic book: a series of eight satirical paintings by William Hogarth, which Stravinsky saw in 1947 at a Chicago exhibit. The series, called A Rake’s Progress, depicts a young man (Tom Rakewell) who abandons his pregnant fiancée, squanders his inheritance, marries a rich old woman, and ends up in London’s mental asylum, Bedlam.

•→http://www.soane.org/collections_legacy/the_soane_hogarths/rakes_progress/

At a time when artwork was becoming increasingly commercialised and when a new literary form – the novel – was coming into vogue, Hogarth came up with the idea of telling contemporary stories through a series of illustrations, the best known of which are A Rake’s Progress, A Harlot’s Progress, and Marriage à-la-mode. In each case Hogarth painted the series and then recreated the illustrations as engravings to be published as prints, which were widely distributed and became wildly popular throughout England, rather as comic books and graphic novels are today.

When Stravinsky saw Hogarth’s illustrations for A Rake’s Progress, he knew he’d found the subject for an opera. Stravinsky’s friend Aldous Huxley suggested W. H. Auden as librettist, and Auden brought in his lover, the poet Chester Kallman as a collaborator.

The two expanded Hogarth’s tale to include a lover for Rakewell, Anne Truelove, whom he leaves for the lures of London nightlife. Rakewell’s good fortune is orchestrated by another new addition, the Mephistophelean character Nick Shadow. The ending, however, remains the same, as the hero still becomes an inmate of Bedlam.

•  The Libretto   […bilingual]→

When Tom Rakewell makes a wish for money, a stranger, Nick Shadow, appears with the news that Tom’s uncle has died and left him a fortune. Tom leaves for London with Nick, promising that as soon as possible he’ll send for his sweetheart, Anne Trulove.

In London, Nick brings Tom to Mother Goose’s brothel, where Tom succumbs to the temptations around him. But Tom soon grows bored and jaded. When he makes a second wish – for happiness – Nick persuades him to marry a bearded lady, Baba the Turk, arguing that happiness comes from acting freely rather than being a slave to duty or pleasure. The marriage quickly fails; Baba is a chatterbox who drives Tom nuts.

After Tom dreams of a machine that will turn stones into bread, he utters – and Nick grants – his third wish. As Tom aspires to end world hunger, Nick starts marketing the fraudulent machine to potential investors. When Tom goes bankrupt, all his possessions (including Baba) are auctioned off.

Meanwhile Anne has followed Tom to London. Baba urges her to help Tom, and warns her against Nick Shadow. A year and a day after their first meeting, Nick leads Tom to a graveyard, where he claims Tom’s soul as payment for his services. They play a game of cards to decide Tom’s fate. Calling on Love and Anne, Tom wins – but Nick condemns him to insanity. Tom ends up in Bedlam, believing he is Adonis and that Anne, who has come to visit him, is Venus. Anne sings him to sleep, then quietly leaves him. When he awakes to find her gone, he dies.

In an epilogue, the principal characters comment that the devil finds work for idle hands.

•→ Act 1 

•   Act  2   ⇓   [Glyndebourne _ 1975]

TOM   Vary the song, oh London, change!

Disband your notes and let them range.

Let rumour scream, let folly purr, let tone desert the flatterer.

Let harmony no more obey the strident choristers of prey.

Yet…all your music can not fill the gap that in my heart is still.

Recitative

Oh, nature, green unnatural mother, how I have followed where you led.

Is it for this I left the country?

No ploughman is more a slave to sun, moon, and season than a gentleman to the clock of fashion.

City! What Caesar could have imagined the curious viands I have tasted!

They choke me. Let Oporto and Provence keep all their precious wines.

I would as soon be dry and wrinkled as a raisin as ever taste another.

Cards! Living pictures! And, dear God, the matrons with marriageable girls!

Cover their charms a little, you well-bred bawds,

or your goods will catch their death of the rheum long before they learn of the green sickness.

The others, too, with their more candid charms.

Pah! Who’s honest, chaste, or kind?

One, only one, and of her I dare not think. (He stands up)

Up, nature, up! The hunt is on, thy pack is in full cry!

They smell the blood upon the bracing air. On, on, on!

Through every street and mansion,

for every candle in this capital of light attends thy appetising progress and burns in honour at thy shrine.

Aria

Always the quarry that I stalk fades, or evades me.

And I walk an endless hall of chandeliers in light that blinds, in light that sears,

reflected from a million smiles.

All empty as the country miles of silly wood and senseless park.

And only in my heart… the dark. (He sits down)

I wish I were happy.    (Nick comes into the room)

Recitative

NICK Master, are you alone?

TOM And sick at heart. What is it?

NICK (He shows the poster) Do you know this lady?

NICK Baba the Turk! I have not visited St. Giles’ fair as yet. They say brave warriors who never flinched at the sound of musketry have swooned after a mere glimpse of her. Is such a thing possible in nature?

NICK Two noted physicians have sworn that she is no impostor. Would you go see her?

TOM Nick, I know that manner of yours. You have some scheme afoot. Come, sir, out with it!

NICK Consider her picture.

TOM Would you see me turned to stone?

NICK Do you desire her?

TOM Like the gout or the falling sickness.

NICK Are you obliged to her?

TOM Heaven forbid.

NICK Then marry her.

TOM Have you taken leave of your senses?

NICK I was never saner. Come, master, observe the host of mankind. How are they? wretched. Why? because they are not free. Why? because the giddy multitude are driven by the unpredictable «Must» of their pleasures. And the sober few are bound by the inflexible «Ought» of their duty. Between which slaveries there is nothing to choose. Would you be happy? then learn to act freely. Would you act freely? then learn to ignore those twin tyrants of appetite and conscience. Therefore, I counsel you, master: Take Baba the Turk to wife. Consider her picture once more, and, as you do so, reflect upon my words.

Aria

In youth the panting slave pursues the fair evasive dame.

Then, caught in colder fetters, woos wealth, office, or a name.

Till, old, dishonoured, sick, downcast and failing in his wits,

in virtue’s narrow cell at last the withered bondsman sits.

That man alone … his fate fulfills.

For he alone, for he alone is free who chooses what to will, and wills his choice as destiny.

No eye his future can foretell, no law his past explain,

whom neither passion may compel, nor reason can restrain.

Well?

Duet TOM  My tale shall be told both by young and by old.

NICK Come, master, prepare your fate to dare.

TOM A favourite narration throughout the nation, remembered by all, in cottage and hall, with song and laughter for ever after.

NICK Perfumed, well-dressed, and looking your best, a bachelor of fashion, eyes hinting at passion. Your carriage young and upon your tongue the gallant speeches that Cupid teaches.

TOM For tongues will not tire around the fire. Oh! sitting at meat, the tale to repeat of the wooing and wedding, likewise the bedding of Baba, that masterwork whom nature created to be celebrated for her features dire.

NICK Shadow will guide, seek your bride. On Baba the Turk, your charms work. What deed is as great as this gorgon to mate? All will admire Tom Rakewell, Esquire.

TOM My heart beats faster. Come, come Shadow.

NICK Come, master, and do not falter,

TOM, NICK To Hymen’s altar! Ye powers, inspire Tom Rakewell Esquire!

  .   .   .   Third  Scene   ⇓

(The same room of first scene of second act with some birds, minerals, glasses, animals to stuff…Tom and Baba are sitting having a breakfast)

Aria

BABA As I was saying both brothers wore moustaches, but Sir John was taller.

They gave me the musical glasses in Vienna, no, it must have been Milan.

Because of the donkeys. Vienna was the Chinese fan.

Or was it the bottle of water from the river Jordan?

I’m certain, at least, it was Vienna and Lord Gordon.

I get so confused about all my travels. The snuff boxes came from Paris

and the fulminous gravels from a cardinal who admired me vastly in Rome.

You’re not eating, my love.

Count Moldau gave me the gnome and Prince Obolovsky the little statues of the twelve apostles,

which I like best of my treasures except my fossils.

Oh, I must tell Bridget never not to touch the mummies.

I’ll dust them myself. She can do the waxwork dummies.

Of course, I love my birds, especially my great auk.

But the moths will get in them. My love, What’s the matter?, why don’t you talk?

TOM Nothing.

BABA Speak to me!

TOM Why? (Baba stands up and embraced him)

BABA Come, sweet, come. Why so glum?. Smile at Baba who, loving, smiles at you. Do not frown, husband dear

TOM (Pushing her back) Sit down! (Baba weeps)

Aria

BABA Scorned! abused! neglected! baited! Wretched me! Why is this? I can see. I know who is your bliss, your love, your life. While l, your loving wife, lie not!, … am hated. Young, demure, delightful, clever! Is she not? not as l. That is what I know you sigh. Then sigh, then cry! For she your wife shall never, shall never be. Oh, no, never! ¡ne…! (Tom stands up and knocks her)

TOM My heart is cold. I can not weep. One remedy is left me: sleep.

¤  Oedipus Rex  ⇓

An «Operaoratorio after Sophocles» by Igor Stravinsky, scored for orchestra, speaker, soloists, and male chorus. The libretto, based on Sophocles’s tragedy, was written by Jean Cocteau in French and then translated by Abbé Jean Daniélou into Latin (the narration, however, is performed in the language of the audience).

 ¶   Synopsis

•  Act 1

The Narrator greets the audience, explaining the nature of the drama they are about to see, and setting the scene: Thebes is suffering from a plague, and the men of the city lament it loudly. Oedipus, king of Thebes and conqueror of the Sphinx, promises to save the city. Creon, brother-in-law to Oedipus, returns from the oracle at Delphi and declaims the words of the gods: Thebes is harboring the murderer of Laius, the previous king. It is the murderer who has brought the plague upon the city. Oedipus promises to discover the murderer and cast him out. He questions Tiresias, the soothsayer, who at first refuses to speak. Angered at this silence, Oedipus accuses him of being the murderer himself. Provoked, Tiresias speaks at last, stating that the murderer of the king is a king. Terrified, Oedipus then accuses Tiresias of being in league with Creon, whom he believes covets the throne. With a flourish from the chorus, Jocasta appears.

•  Act 2

Jocasta calms the dispute by telling all that the oracles always lie. An oracle had predicted that Laius would die at his son’s hand, when in fact he was murdered by bandits at the crossing of three roads. This frightens Oedipus further: he recalls killing an old man at a crossroads before coming to Thebes. A messenger arrives: King Polybus of Corinth, whom Oedipus believes to be his father, has died. However, it is now revealed that Polybus was only the foster-father of Oedipus, who had been, in fact, a foundling. An ancient shepherd arrives: it was he who had found the child Oedipus in the mountains. Jocasta, realizing the truth, flees. At last, the messenger and shepherd state the truth openly: Oedipus is the child of Laius and Jocasta, killer of his father, husband of his mother. Shattered, Oedipus leaves. The messenger reports the death of Jocasta: she has hanged herself in her chambers. Oedipus breaks into her room and puts out his eyes with her pin. He departs Thebes forever as the chorus at first vents their anger, and then mourns the loss of the king they loved.

¤   ·   ·   ·   ballet

◊ «Le sacre du printemps / The Rite of Spring»  ↓  Opening [Pina Bausch]

Stravinsky’s own description of his inspiration: “I had a fleeting vision that came to me as a complete surprise … I saw in imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitate the god of spring”.

Part I:  The Adoration of the Earth.
The curtain rises to reveal young men and women in separate groups. Their surroundings are primitive and dominated by the dark forces of nature. At first the dances are light hearted but they slowly change to have more aggressive and savage movements. The young men take possession of the women and carry them offstage. A fight ensues until a wise old man makes peace. There is a stunned silence, then the men throw themselves on the ground in worship, rise again, and start an even more frenzied dance.

Part II: The Sacrifice.
The young women are standing on the stage near a fire, one of them will be chosen as a sacrifice to the earth. The chosen one stands alone and still in the middle of the stage after a mystic dance, and the young members of the tribe gather around her and dance in a «crescendo or brutal excitement.» Finally the chosen one joins them and the dancing grows more and more violent until it climaxes and the chosen maiden falls exhausted and dies. The men then carry her over to the sacred stone and fall prostrate. The rite is over.

←»Sacrificial Dance»

◊  Petrushka  ↓  Scene I  [Bolshoi Ballet Company]

IgStr

Originally composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1911, Petrouchka tells the story of a day at the Shrove tide fair in St Petersburg 1850s. A mysterious showman produces before an amazed crowd, the puppets Petrouchka, The Ballerina and the Moor who dance a wild dance without strings. All the puppets have been given human emotions and desires, Petrouchka the sad clown is the worst effected. He suffers the torment of his hatred for the showman, his ugly appearance and his love of the Ballerina. The ballerina is not interested in Petrouchka but in the Moor and his rich appearance. The Moor is better treated by the attentions of the Showman and the Ballerina. In a jealous rage Petrouchka challenges the Moor and a fight ensues. The action returns to the fair and the dances and interactions of the wet nurses, coachmen, masqueraders, merchants and bear tamers. Suddenly the puppet escape from their theatre and the Moor kills Petrouchka before a horrified crowd. The crowd are upset and a policeman quickly arrives to investigate the murder. The Showman quickly manages to reassure the crowd and the policeman that it is merely a puppet made of rags and sawdust. The disquietened crowd disperses and the fair starts to pack up for the day as snow starts to fall. The Showman returns to his puppet theatre and putting the corpse of Petrouchka away when the ghost of Petrouchka emerges, threatens the showman and then disappears.

~ Introduction (at the Shrovetide Fair)  +   The Charlatan’s Booth  +   Russian Dance

♦  ◊  ♦  ◊  ♦  FIREBIRD  ↓  Ballet Kirov

Prince Ivan is hunting in the forest and encounters the legendary magic Firebird. The Prince is captivated by the Firebird’s beauty and captures her. The firebird struggles to get free, but cannot escape Ivan’s grip. The Prince takes pity on the Firebird and sets her free. In gratitude, the Firebird gives the Prince one of her feathers, telling him, all he need do, is wave the feather and she will come to his aid.

As the Prince continues through the forest, he discovers thirteen beautiful dancing princesses. The thirteenth princess, Princess Tsarevna, is especially beautiful, and Prince Ivan falls instantly in love with her. They explain to Ivan that he is in the enchanted forest of the evil sorcerer, Katscheï, and they are all his prisoners. As Katscheï’s spell calls them back to his castle, they beg Prince Ivan not to follow them, or to enter the castle, warning him that Katscheï’s evil powers will turn him into stone.

The Prince follows the princesses anyway, and as he enters the castle, he is immediately captured by Katschei’s servants. Katschei appears and tries to turn the Prince into stone, but in the struggle, the Prince remembers what the Firebird told him and he waves her magic feather. The Firebird suddenly appears and casts a spell on Katscheï and his servants, forcing them to a dance to exhaustion. As Katsche� and his servants collapse from dancing, the Firebird lulls them to all into a deep sleep. She then destroys them, freeing the prisoners of the castle and the enchanted forest. The Prince and Princess Tsarevna are married in a great celebration.

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