Wednesday 23 October 2013

Stravinsky - Oedipus Rex

Igor Stravinsky - Oedipus Rex

Poznan Opera House, Poland - 2013

Jacek Przybylowicz, Grzegorz Weirus, Christophe Poncet, Joëlle Charlier, Jerzy Mechlinski, Andrzej Ogorkiewicz, Piotr Friebe, Jaromir Trafankowski, Aleksander Machlaica

Armel Opera Festival, Szeged - ARTE Live Web - 5th October 2013

Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, "an opera-oratorio after Sophocles", is one of the most fascinating works of the composer's neoclassical period. One of the more interesting elements of the Stravinsky's approach here, for example, is the use of older traditional styles that isn't so much a homage as an exploration of different musical archetypes, aligning them appropriately (or inappropriately for effect according to some commentators) to specific characters. Stravinsky's measure of the subject, the dramatic content and its mythological subject is moreover just about perfect. In its formal construction and declarative nature - with a libretto written by Jean Cocteau - it's hard to imagine the work being anything but an oratorio, but there are inevitably grand and tragic elements that are drawn out, and this Poznan Opera House production captures them well.

In as far as the opera-oratorio's relating of the events of Sophocles' Greek tragedy go, the work is divided into two parts. The sequence of events is related by a narrator (in the original language of the audience, which for the purposes of this production is Polish), while the drama is conducted in Latin. Act I concerns the fate of Thebes, which the narrator tells us has already been rescued from the terror of the Sphinx and now faces devastation from the Plague. The chorus beg Oedipus to once again come to their rescue, but the oracle at Delphi has told Creon that the curse can only be lifted when it is discovered who is the murderer of King Laius. Act II presents the unravelling of Oedipus as he comes to the realisation that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta, and that the old man he once killed at a crossroads was therefore his own father and the woman he is married to is his mother.

Staged for the 2013 Armel Opera Festival, the oratorio nature of the work does pose some challenges with staging, but director and choreographer Jacek Przybylowicz finds a way of retaining and supporting the relative simplicity of the related events by having dancers perform the expanded role of the chorus. There's nothing too experimental attempted, the dancers meaningfully integrating with the content of the work while keeping the stage active and the giving the audience something to focus on. The stage itself is otherwise rather minimally decorated, with a gallery at the back for the chorus and the use of blocky thrones to indicate the regal positions of Oedipus and Jocasta. There is some opening out of the story, with a child used during the relating of how Oedipus is discovered by a shepherd, while the dramatic conclusion of Jocasta's death and Oedipus's blinding is effectively staged with the wrapping of Oedipus in a scarf.

Presented for the Armel Opera Festival, this rare production of Oedipus Rex is staged as an opportunity to judge the performances of two competition singers in the main roles. Tenor Christophe Poncet, possessing a lively high timbre that would suit a bel canto or a Verdi role, sang Oedpius with exactly the right kind of Italian character that Stravinsky created for the role. He is a little shaky in places, but gets a good balance between the declarative projecting of the role and making it dramatically meaningful, which is by no means easy to achieve. Joëlle Charlier's Jocasta commands attention and sings the role well, but doesn't have the strong lower end that the dramatic side of the mezzo-soprano role requires. The supporting roles are well sung and the production also benefits from a powerful musical account of the work with Grzegorz Weirus conducting the Szeged Symphony Orchestra.

The Armel Opera Festival performance of Oedipus Rex can be viewed for free for six months after the performance on the ARTE Live Web streaming service. Subtitles are French only.