THE PORTLAND ART MUSEUM and the Portland Opera pair up for a rare opportunity this week: You can see the opera's latest, The Rake's Progress, as well as original sketches and designs for this staging.
Increasingly popular among opera companies, The Rake's Progress will have its Pacific Northwest premiere this Thursday, June 11. With music by Igor Stravinsky and libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, the opera follows Tom Rakewell, a rich son who squanders his wealth on booze and luxury. He marries a wealthy older woman, but eventually goes insane and ends up in an asylum.
The staging for this madness comes from famed British painter David Hockney. In 1961, Hockney visited New York for the first time. To document his time there, he made a suite of prints modeled after a story told in paintings by 18th-century artist William Hogarth—the story that inspired Stravinksy's opera. Nearly a decade later, Hockney was invited to design the staging for a production of The Rake's Progress at the UK's Glyndebourne Festival.
The Portland Art Museum packs a lot into David Hockney: A Rake's Progress: original sketches from the '70s, 16 prints from Hockney and eight from Hogarth, and set designs Hockney created for the opera. Hockney proves himself a master draftsman in this exhibit, with lively costume and character studies, and precise diorama studies for scenery. The staging still feels very contemporary, a testament to the artist's ingenuity and talent given that Hockney designed it 40 years ago. The props and sets used in this production were created in 1982 in San Francisco (the Portland Opera now co-owns them).
The sets feel surreal and appropriately psychotic. The props are rendered in vivid linework, mimicking the intense crosshatching in Hogarth's original engravings. Stravinsky's dramatic, spiking score also inspired Hockney. His patterning is gorgeous, with exacting stripes in a simplified palette of red, blue, green, and black.
In recent years, the Portland Opera has done an excellent job of reaching out to a younger audience, in an attempt to make opera more accessible and to loosen any stigma of snobbery it might carry. This collaboration with the Portland Art Museum is no exception.