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Enescu Oedipe

Monte Pederson, bass-baritone / Egils Silins, bass / Davide Damiani, baritone / Michael Roider, tenor / Goran Simic, bass / Peter Koves, bass / Walter Fink, bass / Yu Chen, baritone / Josef Hopferwieser, tenor / Marjana Lipovsek, mezzo-soprano / Ruxandra Donose, soprano / Mihaela Ungureanu, mezzo-soprano
Vienna Boys Choir / Vienna State Opera Chorus
Austrian Federal Theatres Stage Orchestra / Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Michael Gielen, conductor

Naxos 8.660163-64

This is a known to be important opera which most of us will not have seen and relatively few readers will have heard. Oedipe, completed c.1931 by the leading Romanian composer, was composed over a decade and made its way only slowly. George Enescu (1881-1955) was famous in so many fields of music that he could rarely devote himself exclusively to composition (q.v. this week's review of Edwin Roxburgh in UK, one of a group of influential RCM teachers whose compositions had suffered undeserved side-lining).

It takes on the biggest story in Greek mythology of them all, Sophocles adapted by librettist Edmond Fleg. First performed in Paris, 1936, Oedipe only entered the Romanian repertoire in the laate '50s, after Enescu's death in 1955. So far as I understand, it still awaits a full professional performance in UK? This Vienna/Berlin co-production of 1997 is a satisfactory introduction, its history summarised by the State Opera's Chief Dramaturg. There is an adequate synopsis, and I could pick up enough French words to identify mostly where we were, if not always who was singing (seven low male voices amongst the soloists). Monte Pederson is convincing as Oedipus and Marjana Lipovsek doubles a chilling Sphinx with Jocasta. The music grows to enormous power in the central Acts.

I was particularly moved by the lengthy Epilogue in which the blind Oedipus, supported by his daughter Antigone who alone had stayed by him, rejects as hypocricy Kreon's hope that Oedipus might, after so much suffering, return to Thebes to save his desolated Kingdom. Oedipus explains his history step by step and claims to be guiltless; he had never willed his crimes, which were ordained by Fate. He dies 'in the light' followed by Theseus, with the Eumenides blessing the pure in heart.

At the price one should not complain, but it would be good if in similar situations Naxos might consider, at the least, making available on the internet full texts and translations? Fleg's French libretto must be out of copyright? No doubt the Vienna production was filmed, so hopefully a DVD with the usual translations is on the way, with a major production by one of the UK opera houses not far behind?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Enescu - Oedipe (2)

Monte Carlo Philharmonic - conductor Lawrence Foster

EMI CDS 7 54011 2 2 CDs 156.37 minutes Recorded June 1989


Oedipe Jose van Dam

Tiresias Gabriel Bacquier

Creon Marcel Vanaud

Le Berger Nicolai Gedda

Le Grand Pretre Cornelius Hauptmann

Phorbas Laurence Albert

Le Veilleur Jean-Philippe Courtis

Thesee Gino Qulico

Laios John Aler

Jocaste Brigitte Fassbaender

Le Sphinge Marjana Lipovsek

Antigone Barbara Hendricks

Merope Jocelyne Taillon

Une Femme Isabelle Vernet



Welcome though the recent Naxos recording is, the lack of an accompanying libretto does raise an issue and persuaded me to seek out this earlier offering from EMI. Yes, this studio recording does contain a full libretto, complete with detailed stage instructions, and more there is an additional 30 minutes of music cut from the Vienna State Opera production.

The logic behind the cuts ( the dance sequence in Act I, some bars of orchestral interlude, chorus repeats etc) is clear: they move the plot along and bring a taught dramatic intensity to the staging, but Enescu was just such a wonderful orchestral composer that these passages are a distinct loss for the more leisured armchair listener.


Moreover, Lawrence Foster assembled a cast of international stature for this venture. Marjana Lipovsek sings the Sphinx in both recordings, with truly chilling intensity, but the superb singing and diction of all the other principals gives the Monte Carlo recording the edge of excellence over its rival.


Of course, there has to be a down-side. Officially this recording has been deleted, only a few copies are still out there on the shelves in the mid-price bracket, around twice the price of the Naxos set. In my judgement the extra investment is worthwhile, but equally I have no hesitation in recommending the new recording it will certainly be easier to find.


© Serena Fenwick






© Peter Grahame Woolf