A cursed King at the RFH

In Sophocles' ancient Greek drama Oedipus The King, Oedipus has fled his parents because it was foretold he would kill his father and marry his mother: arriving in Thebes and hailed as King because he has saved the city from a plague by answering the riddle posed by the Sphinx, he marries Jocasta, the Queen. Gradually across the course of the drama it emerges that a man he killed on his journey was Laius, the previous King: that Laius and Jocasta abandoned their baby son because it was prophesied that the child would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother: and that the baby was found and brought up by the couple Oedipus thought were his parents. Realizing in horror what has happened, Jocasta strangles herself, and Oedipus blinds himself and leaves the city with their daughter, Antigone: he has been a plaything of the Gods and could never have escaped his destiny.

This famous and ancient play has been the basis for many subsequent versions, including operas by Enescu and Leoncavallo, a play (The Infernal Machine) by Cocteau, and several films, including one with Orson Welles, no less, as the blind soothsayer Tiresias.

The best-known of these offshoots is Stravinsky's opera-oratorio, Oedipus Rex. In line with the conventions of Greek drama, there is no actual action during the play: it unfolds as narratives by Tiresias and the shepherd who found the infant Oedipus explain his history to him. This construction enables it to work well as an oratorio in Stravinsky's setting of the Latin version of the text: a narrator explains the plot between the musical items. The work was originally intended to be staged, but is now normally performed as a concert work. Yesterday evening's performance at the Royal Festival Hall dimmed the lights, and had the characters other than Oedipus himself enter and exit: lighting changes reflected the moods, with vivid red lighting at the end when Oedipus's situation finally becomes clear to him, with the tragic consequences.

It did occur to me that the use of Latin occasionally gave an irrelevant liturgical flavour to the proceedings: it would be interesting to hear it in the original Greek (though probably the setting would not suit the different language). It was performed with suitable intensity by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, with Stephen Gould as Oedipus, Ekaterina Gubanova as Jocasta, and Simon Russell Beale as the Narrator.

The first half of the concert consisted of the Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin by Bartok, and Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto in a fine performance by Vadim Repim. An enjoyable concert, but marred by a bizarre squeaking which I assume came from a loose board in the conductor's podium, since it occurred whenever he became vigourous. I hope someone nails it down before any more concerts.

Update: I emailed the RFH and received a reply: apparently the problem was not with the podium, but with movement of the forward extension of the stage which had been installed for the concert: it had not been apparent at rehearsals, but the problem has now been fixed.

Posted: Wed - September 24, 2008 at 08:55 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM