Because of the pandemic closure, Ben Bliss has been away from the Met for more than two years following his 2020 appearance as Ferrando in Così fan tutte (pictured above)—the longest absence for the Kansan tenor since he joined the company’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in 2013. This month, he finally returns as the prodigal Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, an opera he recently told the Met’s Christopher Browner he believes “should be performed with as much regularity as Mozart.”
So far at the Met, you’ve largely focused on the works of Mozart. How does The Rake’s Progress compare?
I like to think about The Rake’s Progress, since it’s part of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period, as cubist Mozart. The sound and the structure feel very Classical, but the music keeps shifting and moving. The meter changes, the downbeat falls in different places, and it keeps your ear guessing. So I love it because it’s a kaleidoscopic view of music that I’m very familiar with, and it suits my voice well.
Do you enjoy singing in English?
Singing in the vernacular helps the audience connect with the piece. I’m coming to this role with the intent of singing it in such a way that the audience does not need to look at the supertitles, so they’re never pulled away from the action on stage.
What are some of the musical highlights?
I love “Vary the song, oh London,” at the beginning of Act II. It’s a string of ariettas that so clearly takes you into Tom’s state of mind. He’s drowning in this isolated, impersonal luxury, and the music goes through his thought process in several different, really interesting stages. I also love the scene at the end with Anne, where she holds Tom and sings him a lullaby. He’s a broken man and just needs that archetypal mother’s love. It’s a very touching moment.
Tom starts the opera as a generally noble character. What causes his fall from grace?
It’s easy to say that Tom’s naïveté is his downfall, but it’s more than that. It’s bright lights, big city, and these thrilling opportunities set before him. He starts off with the good intention of giving the world to his beloved Anne as a treasure, but that goal becomes perverted and leads him somewhere that he never could have imagined.
It sounds like a very complex journey.
There are plenty of operas where I run on stage and say, “I’m the prince, and I love the princess, and I’m going to save her.” And then, I sing five arias about how I’m excited but nervous to save her. And then I do, and it’s over. In this, there’s much more to chew on. Tom goes through a clear transformation and learns some very difficult lessons. It’s a modern story, and dramatically there are so many fascinating places to take it.
Christopher Browner is the Met’s Senior Editor.