Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress has been on my must-see list for quite some time. Having not done any prior study, I had a very poor concept of what the plot might be. The first lesson was that a "rake," aside from an oversized comb that clears away what could just as easily be minced with a lawnmower, is also a degenerate playboy. Until I learned this, my mind seemed to be content finding a word that rhymed with the point of confusion (in this case, "snake") and using that as a visual anytime the opera was mentioned or seen in advertising.
There are no snakes.
The opera opens with an energetic fanfare in E major, before transitioning to lovely pastoral counterpoint that evokes the simple beginnings of Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove.
The plot quickly thickens as we learn that Tom is not interested in a steady job but wants easy success, leading to his quasi-Faustian deal with Nick Shadow.
Some other highlights include Anne's aria when she hasn't heard from her distracted love interest (I was introduced to this wonderful performance by Dawn Upshaw by a good friend a few years ago):
I was particularly fond of the music at the end of the second act, where Tom is realizing he's not totally thrilled with the rich wife he's chosen...
From there, one can anticipate the plot from the title alone.
Those not thoroughly familiar with opera might be surprised to learn that it was written in 1951 by the same composer who premiered this in 1913. Think Fantasia with volcanos and dinosaurs.
Harpsichord-accompanied recitative, the small orchestra, and triadic harmonies from serious classical composers were a rarity at the time of its writing, and the opera even ends with a moral "lesson" similar to the didactic asides found in Mozart's The Magic Flute. These are qualities associated with Stravinsky's Neoclassical style, a return to simplicity and restraint associated with Bach and Mozart (dare we call this music simple?) in reaction to the intense, expressive, sometimes esoteric music of the Second Viennese School.
Since the cheapest seat available was $109, I opted for the standing room on the orchestra level. After the first half, a woman on her way out kindly offered me her ticket, which she said was located in the fourth row. The fourth row! I thanked her and headed up; the ticket said B7... so I ended up in the second row, and, as it turned out, in someone else's seat. In my end-of-day, just-stood-through-first-half-of-opera fatigue, I had failed to notice that the ticket so generously bestowed upon me was from last week, and a different opera. I moved over a seat, and all was well.
The elderly gentleman next to me struck up a conversation; he and his wife have been good friends with the lead soprano ever since meeting her at Tanglewood, which they visit every summer. On my other side, intense conversations about upcoming opera seasons in NY and abroad were underway; directly in front of me, James Levine's brother, and 15 feet or so to my right, the maestro himself. I had been transported (I progressed?) from the world of music-lovers to the world of music-makers, and found myself among the people who actively and financially support the arts. I kept an eye on James Levine for as much of the performance as I could, for I knew I may not have another chance to see all the subtleties and nuances of his movements in person.
Here's the official review! http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/arts/review-the-rakes-progress-makes-a-brief-visit-at-the-metropolitan-opera.html?_r=0