Opera Scotland

Oedipus Rex Oedipus the King

Music
Igor Stravinsky (born Oranienbaum, 17 June 1882; died New York, 6 April 1971)

Text
Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), using the Latin translation by Jean Daniélou.

Source
Classical Greek tragedy Oedipus Tyrannus (c435-425 BC) by Sophocles (c496-406 BC).

Premieres
First performance: Paris (Theatre Sarah Bernhardt), 30 May 1927 (concert).
First UK performance: London (Queen’s Hall), 12 February 1936 (concert).
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 21 August 1956.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 March 1989.

Background
Stravinsky’s early career was dominated by his composition of ballets for Diaghilev, all with wonderfully novel and imaginative orchestration. His early vocal and operatic works were generally smaller in scale and more experimental in form, sometimes influenced by folk music. By 1920 he was living in Paris and entering on the period dominated by more austere neo-classical ideas. Central to this period is the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex. The Greek text of Sophocles is translated into Latin, and the performance is introduced and linked by a narration written by Cocteau in French, to be performed in the language of the audience. It is frequently performed in concert, in the style of an oratorio. Even fully staged performances tend to be very static in presentation. This does not prevent the piece from accumulating a powerful effect in a short time (it lasts about one hour).

Characters
Oedipus, King of Thebes (tenor)
Jocasta, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
Creon, Jocasta’s brother (bass-baritone)
Tiresias, a soothsayer (bass)
A Messenger (baritone)
A Shepherd (tenor)
Narrator (speaker)

Plot Summary
The Narrator introduces the performance by explaining that Oedipus was predestined for his dreadful fate. Thebes is suffering from plague, and Oedipus promises to help his people. Creon returns from consulting the oracle at Delphi with the news that the murderer of Laius, the previous king, still lives. Oedipus vows to hunt him down. Tiresias refuses to answer the king’s questions, except to say the murderer was also a king. Oedipus suspects a conspiracy between Creon and Tiresias. Jocasta enters at this point, concerned by the outbreak of acrimony between her husband and brother. She says that the oracle can be wrong, since it had been predicted that Laius, her first husband, would be killed by his own son, when he had in fact been killed by robbers at a crossroads. Oedipus says that he had himself killed a man there, though Jocasta thinks this is just a coincidence. A messenger now enters with news that King Polybus is dead, that it is now known that Oedipus was only his adopted son, and that he was found as a baby, abandoned to die on a mountainside. The shepherd who rescued him now supports this claim. Jocasta is appalled, and leaves the scene. The messenger and shepherd now accuse Oedipus of parricide and incest. He at last realises his full guilt and goes off. Word comes that Jocasta has hanged herself, and that Oedipus has blinded himself. He then leaves the city as the chorus express their pity for his wretched fate.

The Cast

Creon
 Jocasta's brother
Jocasta
 wife of Oedipus
Messenger
 
Oedipus
 King of Thebes
Shepherd
 
Speaker
 
Tiresias
 a blind soothsayer

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