Comparing The Rake's Progress and The Threepenny Opera

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Comparing The Rake's Progress and The Threepenny Opera

Upon a first listening to the collaborations of Auden-Kallman/Stravinsky in The Rake's Progress and Brecht/Weill in The Threepenny Opera, the idea that there could be anything in common with the two works might seem to require a great stretch of the imagination. While the 1951 Rake's Progress is clearly neo-classical, and specifically Mozartian, the 1928 Threepenny Opera is as easily termed the precursor to the Broadway musical as it is termed "opera."

Closer examination of the collaborators' sources and motivations, however, reveal several striking coincidences. Both operas draw upon eighteenth-century works as their primary sources: The Rake's Progress was conceived after Stravinsky saw the 1745 William Hogarth print-sequence of the same name, and The Threepenny Opera is an adaptation of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, written in 1728. (Incidentally, Hogarth also painted a scene from this enormously popular ballad-opera.) The Threepenny Opera follows the ballad-opera tradition, in that it is a series of songs interspersed with dialogue, not recitative. Each scene, as in The Beggar's Opera, is complete in itself, pertaining to the whole, but not necessarily driving the action of the plot. Stravinsky's initial conception, though not realized, was to write "an Opera with definitely separated numbers connected by spoken (not sung) words of the text, [...] to avoid the customary operatic recitative" (Griffiths 10). Brecht's libretto reads like a Marxist manifesto, and although The Rake's Progress is by no means overtly Marxist, Auden's "most serious objection to Hogarth's Rake's Progress was based on his reading it as 'a bourgeois parable' [...] he approached Hogarth's pr...

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.... Eighteenth-Centruy Plays. Ed. Ricardo Quintana. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952. 179-238.

Griffiths, Paul with Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft and Gabriel Josipovici. Igor Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress. Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982.

Lindenberger, Herbert. "Anti-theatricality in Twentieth Century Opera." Modern Drama 44.3 (2001): 300-317.

Paulson, Ronald. "Auden, Hogarth, and The Rake's Progress." Raritan: A Quarterly Review 16.2 (1996): 30pp. htm&sp. usernumber.

Savage, Robert. "Making a Libretto: Three Collaborations over The Rake's Progress." Oedipus Rex / The Rake's Progress. English National Opera Guides: 43. Ed. Nicholas John.London: John Calder Publishers, 1991. 45-58.

Stravinsky, Igor and Robert Craft. Memories and Commentaries. London: Faber, 1959.
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