The Last Opera

The Last Opera

The Rake's Progress in the Life of Stravinsky and Sung Drama
Chandler Carter
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 05/31/2019
ISBN: 978-0-253-04159-3
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From the fall of 1947 through the summer of 1951 composer Igor Stravinsky and poet W. H. Auden collaborated on the opera The Rake's Progress. At the time, their self-consciously conventional work seemed to appeal only to conservative audiences. Few perceived that Stravinsky and Auden were confronting the central crisis of the Modern age, for their story of a hapless eighteenth-century Everyman dramatizes the very limits of human will, a theme Auden insists underlies all opera. In The Last Opera, Chandler Carter weaves together three interlocking stories. The central and most detailed story explores the libretto and music of The Rake's Progress. The second positions the opera as a focal point in Stravinsky's artistic journey and those who helped him realize it—his librettists, Auden and Chester Kallman; his protégé Robert Craft; and his compatriot, fellow composer, and close friend Nicolas Nabokov. By exploring the ominous cultural landscape in which these fascinating individuals lived and worked, the book captures a pivotal twenty-five-year span (from approximately 1945 to 1970) during which modernists like Stravinsky and Auden confronted a tectonic disruption to their artistic worldview. Ultimately, Carter reveals how these stories fit into a larger third narrative, the 400-year history of opera. This richly and lovingly contextualized study of The Rake's Progress sheds new light on why, despite the hundreds of musical dramas and theater pieces that have been written since its premier in 1951, this work is still considered the "the last opera."

Author Bio

Chandler Carter is Professor of Music at Hofstra University.



A brilliant addition to the already sumptuous (and still growing) literature on Stravinsky and his music, [and] a tour de force [on] the making of The Rake's Progressand on matters relating to the composer's artistic environment during the coldwar years of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.


 (Pieter C. van den Toorn, author of The Music of Igor Stravinsky)


A must read for those who are seeking an authoritative commentary on the scenario, the music, the text, the premiere and other performances and the reception history of the The Rake's Progress.


 (Maureen Carr, author of After the Rite: Stravinsky's Path to Neoclassicism (1914-1925))

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Table of Contents


Part I: The Cultural Moment


Part II: The Drama

1. A Convergence of Minds

2. A Happy Collaboration

3. Deeper Meanings

Part III: The Music

4. Stravinsky's "Special Sense"

5. Displacement, Text Setting and Stravinsky's Evolving Aesthetic

6. Stravinsky's Truths and Mozart's Lies—Music, Emotion and Theatrical Distance

7. The Structure of Scenes

8. Ruin, Disaster, ... Saving Grace

Part IV: Performance

9. Venice

10. How The Rake became a Masterpiece

Epilogue: "Good people, just a moment"