|Igor Stravinsky |
Oedipus RexOratorio 1927.
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Oedipus rex is an "Opera-oratorio after Sophocles" by Igor Stravinsky, scored for orchestra, speaker, soloists, and male chorus. The libretto, based on Sophocles's tragedy, was written by Jean Cocteau in French and then translated by Abbé Jean Daniélou into Latin (the narration, however, is performed in the language of the audience). The work is sometimes performed in the concert hall as an oratorio, as it was at its original performance in the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris on May 30, 1927, and at its American premiere the following year given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Harvard Glee Club; it has also been presented on stage as an opera, the first such performance being at the Vienna State Opera on February 23, 1928. It was subsequently presented three times by the Santa Fe Opera in 1960, 1961, and 1962 with the composer in attendance.
Oedipus rex was written towards the beginning of Stravinsky's neoclassical period. He had considered setting the work in Ancient Greek, but decided ultimately on Latin: in his words "a medium not dead but turned to stone." A note in the score warns against ecclesiatical pronunciation and hard k replaces c in the first utterance of the chorus: "Kædit nos pestis".
A production directed by Julie Taymor starring Philip Langridge, Jessye Norman, Min Tanaka, and Bryn Terfel was performed at the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto in Japan in 1992 and filmed by Taymor for television. Another filmed rendition survives from 1973 when Leonard Bernstein conducted it during his 6th and last lecture for the Charles Eliot Norton chair at Harvard University.
The work is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets in B-flat and A (3rd doubling clarinet in E-flat), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F, 4 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, tambourine, "military" snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, piano, harp and strings.
The Narrator greets the audience, explaining the nature of the drama they are about to see, and setting the scene: Thebes is suffering from a plague, and the men of the city lament it loudly. Oedipus, king of Thebes and conqueror of the Sphinx, promises to save the city. Creon, brother-in-law to Oedipus, returns from the oracle at Delphi and declaims the words of the gods: Thebes is harboring the murderer of Laius, the previous king. It is the murderer who has brought the plague upon the city. Oedipus promises to discover the murderer and cast him out. He questions Tiresias, the soothsayer, who at first refuses to speak. Angered at this silence, Oedipus accuses him of being the murderer himself. Provoked, Tiresias speaks at last, stating that the murderer of the king is a king. Terrified, Oedipus then accuses Tiresias of being in league with Creon, whom he believes covets the throne. With a flourish from the chorus, Jocasta appears.
Jocasta calms the dispute by telling all that the oracles always lie. An oracle had predicted that Laius would die at his son's hand, when in fact he was murdered by bandits at the crossing of three roads. This frightens Oedipus further: he recalls killing an old man at a crossroads before coming to Thebes. A messenger arrives: King Polybus of Corinth, whom Oedipus believes to be his father, has died. However, it is now revealed that Polybus was only the foster-father of Oedipus, who had been, in fact, a foundling. An ancient shepherd arrives: it was he who had found the child Oedipus in the mountains. Jocasta, realizing the truth, flees. At last, the messenger and shepherd state the truth openly: Oedipus is the child of Laius and Jocasta, killer of his father, husband of his mother. Shattered, Oedipus leaves. The messenger reports the death of Jocasta: she has hanged herself in her chambers. Oedipus breaks into her room and puts out his eyes with her pin. He departs Thebes forever as the chorus at first vents their anger, and then mourns the loss of the king they loved.
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