Opera Review: Enescu’s Rendition of the Oedipus Saga Receives a Gripping Revival

December 17th, 2013

Monika Rittershaus

Vuyani Mlinde and Tanja Ariane in “Oedipe” by George Enescu, at Oper Frankfurt.

FRANKFURT — We really do not hear a whole lot of audio by George Enescu. The early twentieth century composer’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 stays a staple of classical FM morning programming, yet we are inclined to spend lip provider to his status as Romania’s greatest-at any time musician.

This could help describe the neglect of his only opera, “Oedipe,” which had its premiere at the Paris Opera in 1936 but subsequently went unperformed for virtually 20 several years and then received traction only in Romania. Fortunately, the situation has altered with a handful of recordings and modern revivals that confirm “Oedipe” to be a masterpiece. The gripping new creation at Oper Frankfurt is certain to earn converts to Enescu’s version of the Oedipus saga.

In contrast to the plays by Sophocles on which it is largely based, Edmond Fleg’s first libretto for “Oedipe” disregards the Aristotelian notion of unity of time and place to present in four acts a chronological account of Oedipus’s existence, beginning with his beginning to Jocasta and Laius in Thebes and ending with his final vindication as an harmless target of future. We thus witness activities only informed about by Sophocles, this sort of as Oedipus’s self-defense killing of the unrecognized Laius and his victorious battle of wits with the Sphinx, which wins him the Theban throne and Jocasta as a wife.

But the opera retains, with no redundancy, Sophocles’s pressure-building approach of disclosing, a single by 1, the information that affirm the prophet Tiresias’s assertion at the outset that Oedipus, born in defiance of the gods’ dictate that Laius stay childless, will eliminate his father and marry his mom. And it all normally takes location to music of originality and efficiency that partakes of late Romanticism and incipient Modernism.

The audio operates the gamut from Romanian folk-like tunes to quarter tones for characterizing the Sphinx. Yet the opera also has a distinct total musical character that matches the doleful story of helplessness from the workings of fate. Sturdily constructed choruses source commentary in the Greek way, but Enescu, who was also a violin virtuoso and conductor, as effectively as a composer, exhibits a certain grasp of dramatic pacing and a fine facility for orchestral colour.

This creation is by the veteran director Hans Neuenfels, whose radical stagings have enraged numerous a tradition-oriented opera-goer. Any controversy right here stems, however, not so a lot from his direction as from what he and the conductor, Alexander Liebreich, decided to omit: The thirty-moment Act four, which finishes the opera on an optimistic notice, is still left out in its entirety. We hence skip the Christian-like redemption from the misfortunes of fate that the elderly Oedipus attains in dying.

Opera directors are occasionally extremely preoccupied by the supposed problem of a significant opera ending happily, and some splendid tunes goes unheard right here. Yet there is no denying the electrical power Mr. Neuenfels offers the close, with its image of Oedipus, his confront bloodied from self-blinding, going through banishment from Thebes and a nomadic existence with his daughter Antigone as his only companion.

Mr. Neuenfels charts Oedipus’s decrease surely but has not misplaced his capability to shock. Laius urinates on Oedipus before the latter dispatches him, and the Sphinx, in spite of her sex, is also equipped with a phallus. One more questionable element includes the inclusion of a present day-day archaeologist, who inspects Thebes at the commence of the opera and later, confusingly, is reworked into Oedipus.

Rifail Ajdarpasic’s sets consist mostly of slate partitions bearing inscriptions, which on close examination reveal mathematical equations. Elina Schnizler’s costumes also have a modernistic slant, particularly the gowns worn by Jocasta and the Sphinx. Yet the important timelessness of the tale is by no means dropped.

The title part needs a competent actor who can sing powerfully but also sensitively. The baritone Simon Neal fills the monthly bill with a riveting overall performance uncompromised by the production’s occasional distractions. Other roles are secondary to Oedipus but find gifted interpreters in the mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner (Jocasta), the alto Katharina Magiera (the Sphinx) and the baritone Dietrich Volle (Creon).

Magnus Baldvinsson delivers Tiresius’s pronouncements with stark authority, and the bass-baritone Kihwan Sim is strong as Phorbas, who substitutes Oedipus for the deceased infant of the royal pair in Corinth. In a parallel to the rats that attracted a lot attention in Mr. Neuenfels’s Bayreuth “Lohengrin,” Michael McCown, as the Shepherd, dresses in a sheep’s costume.

Mr. Liebreich qualified prospects a functionality of concentrated intensity, played with conviction. Aside from the missing Act 4, he sanctioned other cuts, particularly in the massed choral scenes, which could have helped iron out longueurs famous in other productions. Enescu himself mentioned that “the motion need to unfold quickly, with no pathos, with out repetition and superfluous speeches” and this direction appears to have been taken actually.

Enescu also observed that the listener have to comprehend the textual content, which Frankfurt respects by carrying out “Oedipe” in a German translation by Henry Arnold relatively than the unique French. Whether or not that is an benefit will rely on one’s very own linguistic proclivities, but there is tiny question that it boosts the Frankfurt audience’s accessibility to the power of this substantial function. Productions in Britain and the United States are overdue.

Oedipe. Directed by Hans Neuenfels. Oper Frankfurt. By way of Jan. five.

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