Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Oedipus Jones and the raiders of the lost opera (ROH/Oedipe)

George Enescu, Oedipe (Leo Hussain cond. Orchestra Royal Opera House)
A monumental production at the ROH presently begins with the projection of a four storey tableau. The curtain rises but nothing seems to change. Then the light does, but the same thing confronts us. Spectacular. Poses are held for half an hour by a large number of people, dressed as if from classical antiquity.
A snap of the projection
An awful lot happened after this. The spectacular nature of the production meant there was an awful lot to watch happening, scenery changing. Alfons Flores had not held back. Dress became more modern. Shepherds were road workers. Blood stained plastic sheeting the height of the stage (slaughterhouse/CSI thing going on). A  spitfire was winched down, torn to pieces by the Thebans. Then it finishes in some kind of subterranean temple, with lots of objects (can't help but thing: choose the real grail at this point), with water dripping the full height of the stage in to a bowl (pretty impressive- six storeys or something). But here is an example of how things got a bit overcooked: Oedipe walks in to dark, to light, to water sprayed; then in to bright light corridor, then lights change for chorus. The first bit alone would have been more powerful I suspect. Lighting was a relative weak point:  I am getting fed up of lighting designers who think it clever to blind the audience by shining bright lights at them. Peter van Praet's lighting was generally very evocative, but I would have liked better lighting to see what was going on: and so much was going on after all. Yet this is quibbling: essentially this was a seriously ambitious staging which carried off to spectacular effect, and I'd gladly see it again.

From the pit, the reliable Leo Hussain (previously  Lucretia) made a magnificent job of the score - which was entirely new to me. It was almost as if Bruckner wrote an opera, but with much lightness of touch.  Vocally, a spectacular cast was employed. Johan Reuter in the title role stunned all with his aria after the inevitable blidning scene. Of coure John Tomlinson very nearly stole the show - he always does - Tirésia. Laura Fagan sang Antigone at short notice, and very finely too. Sarah Connolly was magnificent. Not many Sphinxes can sing from a spitfire, but Marie-Nicole Lemieux was certainly the best I have seen. One can always rely on Alan Oke (Shepherd) and Nicholas Courjal (Theban High Priest). The chorus anda large number of actors with apparently endless ability to stay stock still a range of poses.

Overall: this was monumental to the point of being almost indigestible. Magnificent, but I'd need to see and hear it more than once. Worthy of attention in any case, but not as background or for a relaxed evening.

Until 8th June at ROH; on radio 3 Saturday 4th June.

Cast and creative team
Music - George Enescu
Libretto - Edmond Fleg
Directors - Àlex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco
Set designer - Alfons Flores
Costume designer - Lluc Castells
Lighting designer - Peter van Praet
Conductor - Leo Hussain
Oedipe - Johan Reuter
Tirésias - John Tomlinson
Antigone - Lauren Fagan
Mérope - Claudia Huckle
Jocaste - Sarah Connolly
The Sphinx - Marie-Nicole Lemieux
A Shepherd - Alan Oke
The Theban High Priest - Nicolas Courjal
Laïos - Hubert Francis
Créon - Samuel Youn
Phorbas - In Sung Sim
The Watcher - Stefan Kocan
Thésée - Samuel Dale Johnson
Theban Woman - Lauren Fagan
Chorus - Royal Opera Chorus
Concert master - Peter Manning
Orchestra - Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

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