Opera Reviews
24 November 2020
Untitled Document

A stunning Oedipe in Salzburg

by Moore Parker
Enescu: Oedipe
Salzburg Festival
17 August 2019
Christopher Maltman (Oedipe), Ensemble

Enescu’s solitary opera (premiered in Paris,1936) has been accorded an opulent reading for its Salzburg debut, superbly considered in true Achim Freyer style with surreal Daliesque-like images and effects, and with extraordinary elements (grotesque creatures and figures) echoing ideas to be found in the work of Lecoq or Lindsay Kemp. The concept further includes subtle video accents (Benjamin Jantzen) and stunningly atmospheric lighting (Franz Tscheck) which collectively claim the potential of the unique Felsenreitschule, and serve as an exceptional platform for this rarely-performed piece (currently with only 15 stage productions to its credit). 

The Salzburg version hinges upon Christopher Maltman’s Oedipe (clad in vast layers of muscle-padding) - a mammoth artistic challenge which vocally and dramatically stretches beyond many more familiar roles in standard operatic repertoire. Maltman’s ample baritone, pregnant enunciation, and artistic intensity dominate the stage to a degree which cast something of a shadow across the remaining soloists - despite finely-drawn performances. 

The satellite figures surrounding the lead appear almost imaginary figments, in fantasy formed dimension and exotically costumed to underscore and offset the humanly identifiable Oedipe and his life’s journey, while remaining coldly autonomous and almost abstract in definition. 

Memorable characters among the line-up include Brian Mulligan’s vocally-solid Créon, Anaïk Morel’s floral-costumed Jocaste, Ève-Maud Hubeaux’s strident La Sphinge, and - in particular - John Tomlinson’s Tirésias (an individual who has… “outlived three generations and whose knowledge is envied by the gods”) with his cavernous, eerie, Sprechgesang ringing true for the character and achieving an appropriately chilling impact.

The thirteen vocal soloists were augmented by Kathy Platz as a captivating baby Oedipe (in enormous body costume), and cleverly choreographed in slow-motion to underscore the extraordinary cosmos, while uniting the demands of the score with the vast venue to hand. 

Furthermore, vital contributions by the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor and the Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor throughout the evening underscored the command of the Wiener Philharmoniker in the pit - in a reading masterfully coordinated by an inspired and technically consummate Ingo Metzmacher. 

While perhaps lacking the idiosyncratic individuality to rank with masterpieces by composers such as Janáček or Britten, Enescu’s Oedipe is a natural for the artistic resources of a festival of this dimension in which the given elements are likely guaranteed to elevate and ensure the ultimate capacity for success - as this showing well demonstrated.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo © SF / Monika Rittershaus
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