Scottish Opera's first attempt at staging Stravinsky's great dramatic oratorio Oedipus Rex in 1989 had been a huge success. The second part of the evening, a modern interpretation of Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka, was far less effective. Also the very welcome collaboration with Scottish Ballet was feasible at Glasgow's Theatre Royal, but must have created logistical difficulties if a tour had ever been considered. An immediate revival of Oedipus seemed like an excellent idea. Glasgow audiences could see it again, with an operatic partner, while the entire programme could then be shown outside Headquarters.
Back in 1972, on its last visit to Edinburgh, Sadler's Wells Opera had paired its classic ten-year-old staging of Oedipus Rex with Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle. This piece, requiring one set and two singers, is usually reliant on lighting for its visual interest. It was clearly a convenient idea for the required stable-mate. The designer Stefanos Lazaridis having directed Oedipus with the collaboration of Michael Hunt, was commissioned to direct and design the Bartók on his own.
The combination of these pieces works well, and the revival of Oedipus in Glasgow was fine. Only two of the previous season's cast returned - Anne-Marie Owens as a superb Jocasta and actor Robert O'Mahoney's as the Speaker. Nicholas Folwell, Neil jenkins and David Gwynne were just as effective as their predecessors had been. If John Treleaven was slightly less moving than Alberto Remedios he was still very good. The young Georgian conductor Vachtang Matchavariani gave a less electrifying account of the score than Graeme Jenkins had, but he showed promise in both the Stravinsky and Bartók.
In Glasgow there was a thirty minute interval, with a final curtain around ten. The set for Oedipus was quite large - several rows of unmoving cubicles for the chorus. The set for Bluebeard was also bulky - lofty walls around the stage with a door high up at the back and a narrow ramp for the singers to make a perilous descent. Once safely on stage level, Kathryn Harries and Monte Jaffe both gave excellent performances, while Paul Pyatt's lighting produced some subtle touches.
These constructions must have taken all of the available half hour to change, even in Glasgow. In the more technically primitive Edinburgh Playhouse, the sole Scottish performance venue on the tour, disaster struck right from the start. The Stravinsky began late due to unspecified technical issues - the pre-performance talk by the director's assistant James Ross was still going on when the audience should all have been sitting comfortably. And the interval lasted well over an hour. The sense of unease spread to the performance of Oedipus and much of the tension so tangible in Glasgow evaporated in Edinburgh. By the expected final curtain time at 10.00pm the Bartók had not even started. Many audience members chose not to wait for it, and others, perhaps more determined, watched the first few minutes before rushing off for last buses and trains. The lack of communication or explanation from the Company just made matters worse.
The productions were never revived.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow
24 Jan, 19.15 27 Jan, 19.15 14 Feb, 19.15 1 Mar, 19.30
Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh
15 Mar, 19.15
Empire Theatre, Liverpool | Liverpool
22 Mar, 19.15
Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne
28 Mar, 19.15 30 Mar, 19.15
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