I remember a few years ago when the EMI recording with a dazzling cast consisting of Jose van Dam, Gabriel Bacquier, Nicolai Gedda, Gino Quilico, John Aler, Brigitte Fassbaender, Marjana Liposvek & Barbara Hendricks - reading some rather unfavorable reviews of it. I purchased it anyway, and was knocked into tomorrow. What an incredible score this
is! Such a powerful musical drama.
The opening scene for the various choruses, the women of Thebes, the High Priest, the Theban warriors, and the shepherds, is wonderful. Alternating between exotic sounding harps & reeds, to an almost Debussyian/Ravel type of orchestral tonal pallete, and Enesco's handling of text is simply gorgeous, giving all of the characters beautiful (if brief) melodies on which to sing them. Much of the chorus work, like much of the entire opera itself is quiet, ethereal in nature with sudden bursts of enormous sound which just surround you and are all the more effective.
Enesco's musical language throughout Oedipe is wildly chromatic, and modal. Parts of the opera sound ancient and even mysteriously "Greek" in nature, while others recall
Dramatically, I love this work as well, as Enesco's librettist Edmond Fleg, incorporates more of the legend of Oedipus into this story than we usually get, as well as altering much of it. (For instance, the entire final scene)
The first act is serves as prologue, dealing, as it does, with the celebration of the birth of Oedipe, and ending with the horrible prediction of Tirisea, about the future king's fate.
Also, the final Act, serves as epilogue, since Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipe blinds himself in Act III. Here, the blind, exiled Oedipe, wandering with the aid of his daughter, Antigone, reaches a grove of flowers which she describes to him and which he knows is the end of his journey - but not before a battle of wits with Creon. Following this, Oedipe leaves them all as he walks into the grove, and near a cave, dies and dissapears in a blaze of light as the Eumenides invisbly sing "Happy
is he who is pure in soul; peace be unto him!"
Oedipe's final "aria" is, in my opinion, the closest thing in the
operatic literature to the baritone equivalent of one of those glorious Straussian scenes for soprano. Here, Enesco dishes out some of the most gorgeous music in a score that is absolutely filled with beauty. (If you listen closely, too, you'll hear that French "floating" string writing nearly identical to that used by Durufle in his Requiem some years later). Jose van Dam's singing of this scene is of such aching beauty that I get a genuine lump in my throat - til the tears start flowing
from the sheer beauty of it.
Will somebody do this opera? Til they do, this is the recording to own and experience.