stravinsky oedipus dynamic

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Oedipus Rex, opera-oratorio in two acts after Sophocles (1927)
Text by Jean Cocteau, translated in Latin by Jean Daniélou
Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968)
Three Orchestral Preludes for Oedipus Rex by Sophocles (1904)
Oedipus: AJ Glueckert; Jocasta: Ekaterina Semenchuk; Creon: Alex Esposito; Tiresias: Adolfo Corrado; Shepherd: Luca Bernard; Messenger: Sebastian Geyer; Speaker: Massimo Popolizio
Orchestra and Chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Daniele Gatti
Tiziano Mancini (video director)
rec. live, 30 June 2022, Sala Zubin Mehta, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Florence, Italy
Reviewed in surround sound
Dynamic 57981 Blu-ray [79]

Ildebrando Pizzetti was just twenty-four when he was commissioned to write Three Orchestral Preludes for use in a theatrical production of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex. We do not know exactly which parts of the play the preludes were to illustrate. Paolo Petazzi in his helpful booklet note speculates that the first might been the prelude while the tragic third came near the end. That first piece, marked Largo, does have a tense, expectant, brooding atmosphere. The third, marked Con molta espressione di dolore (with a great grief) could be felt as expressing shock at the tragic events. Or, since this tale is concerned only with revealing to Oedipus the significance of the past events, it could be his shock at learning how he came to fulfil the very fate he had sought to escape. The middle prelude is more contrasted in speed and mood. It is a powerful set of pieces. Perhaps few collectors would buy the disc just for this work, but it is rather more than a filler.

Stravinsky’s great opera-oratorio, unusually, has text in Latin, a dead language, but spoken narration in the language of the audience. At the live concert in Florence, the narration was in Italian. The narrator tells us what we are about to see. With that and with Latin, the viewer is distanced from the drama. It becomes impersona, and can only hold musical surprises. Yet a good performance always makes it moving, even cathartic.

That is truer when the work is staged, for it is more an opera than an oratorio. Here we see the work in the concert hall, as it is most commonly performed, with “characters” in concert dress behind music stands. (Stravinsky even suggested the lead characters should be masked.) But as an account of the score this is mostly satisfying.

The singers are all good, even if none stands out enough to seize the vocal honours. AJ Glueckert’s tenor serves well for the frequently taxing lines of the title role of Oedipus. He is confident as the arrogant and boastful King, but gradually allows a tremor to creep in as the awful truth dawns. The Queen Jocasta has one long aria and the duet that follows. Ekaterina Semenchuk despatches both with aplomb if not much beauty of tone. Creon is bass-baritone Alex Esposito, well known in Mozart and Rossini. Although the bottom notes lack a bit of weight, he sings accurately and with dramatic emphasis where needed. Tiresias is sung by bass Adolfo Corrado with a fine sound. Sebastian Geyer’s Messenger and Luca Bernard’s Shepherd effectively reveal the snare the Gods set for Oedipus at his birth.

Each singer in the fine male chorus is slightly separated from his neighbour, so they spread across the whole of the choir stalls. They have more music than anyone else, and the widest range of moods to master. They open and close the work, and have a mighty Gloria to sing either side of the interval between Act One and Act Two. They encompass all this, and they sound engaged in the drama. The players of the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale are impressive too, not least the woodwinds in their testing solos for Jocasta’s aria. Daniele Gatti directs with a sure feeling for tempo, phrasing and balance. At less than an hour, the performance adds up to rather more than the sum of its parts. Pizzetti’s work is a valuable addition. The filming and the surround sound are both very good.

This work is far more recorded on CD than on film, so this release might at present have the field to itself. It will serve quite well to plug that gap, but some competition would be welcome, especially in vocal calibre. If you can track it down, you should see the film Seiji Ozawa made in Tokyo with a top cast led by Philip Langridge and Jessye Norman. The sets, costumes and direction are amazing, and completely justify the work’s status as an opera, if an unusual one. It was issued in 1993 on a DVD (Philips 0743 077) with a lot of informative extras. The DVD seems unavailable, but the audio can be downloaded at Presto Music. The video appears on YouTube (search for Oedipus Rex Ozawa Norman Langridge), but without subtitles, not even for the Japanese narration.

Roy Westbrook

Previous review (DVD): Stephen Barber (August 2023)

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music

Production details
Video format, aspect ratio: 1080/60, 16:9
Audio format: PCM STEREO 2.0 – DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio
Subtitles: Italian, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Latin
Region code: 0 – All regions
Booklet with track listing and notes in Italian and English