Oedipe at the Royal Opera House
A story about trying to defeat fate in a world where gods rule and destiny is decided before birth, Romanian composer George Enescu’s Oedipe is a classic based on the Greek myth about predestiny, murder and incest. At Oedipe’s birth it is declared that he is doomed: he is removed from his parents, exiled, adopted and given a new identity. When he becomes a man, he finds himself accidentally fulfilling that unfortunate destiny, notwithstanding all efforts to prevent it. Despite saving the people from the Sphinx and becoming king, he is later condemned and exiled by them, after which he declares his innocence as a pawn of a fate he did not choose.
Staged by the Catalan company La Fura dels Baus, this is the Royal Opera House’s first production of their acclaimed masterpiece. It took Enescu 22 years to write Oedipe, his only opera. Since its premiere in 1937, performances have been rare.
Recalling in places the contrasting sounds of both Debussy and Wagner, it can be asked why Enescu’s opera has been so neglected and performed only sporadically. According to the conductor, Leo Hussain, there is no “properly published and edited orchestral score” for this piece and the orchestra must be of “epic size”, which makes the staging of this tour de force very expensive. One can also note that the cast of soloists and chorus is also enormous and the stage scenery is highly elaborate.
Perhaps another reason Oedipe is rarely produced is because the subject matter is distasteful in nature and the story itself is very tragic throughout. However, as a theatrical and musical composition Oedipe is remarkable: Hussain also states that this work “encompasses almost every style of 20th century music – even styles that had not been written in when Enescu was writing the piece”.
Interestingly, the set and costumes are very postmodern. Clothing is mostly brownish and appears to be of 1940s fashion, although at times also ancient Greek. The set is superb and elaborate with extraordinary multi-tiered structures and exceptional lighting design. The “Sphinx” appears as an odd sort of aeroplane.
With libretto by Edmond Fleg, the stellar cast includes Johan Reuter, John Tomlinson, Sophie Bevan and Sarah Connolly, all remarkable vocalists. Absolutely beautiful, vast choruses prevail throughout. Despite its gloomy subject, Oedipe is a stunning, outstanding production.
Oedipe is on at the Royal Opera House from 23th May until 8th June 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Oedipe here: