WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Rihm: Oedipus / Schmidt, Pell, Dooley, Carlson, Prick

Rihm / Schmidt / Friedrich
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101667  
Composer:  Wolfgang Rihm
Performer:  Lenus CarlsonWilliam MurrayWilliam DooleyWilliam Pell,   ... 
Conductor:  Christof Prick
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper ChorusBerlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Wolfgang Rihm

Oedipus – Andreas Schmidt
Kreon – William Pell
Tiresias – William Dooley
Bote – Lenus Carlson
Hirte – William Murray
Jokasta – Emily Golden

Berlin Deutsche Opera Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Georg Metz)
Christof Prick, conductor

Götz Friedrich, stage director
Andreas Reinhardt, stage and costume designer

World première recording recorded live at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 1987

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 105 mins
Read more No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9) 3712530.az_RIHM_Oedipus_Christof_Prick.html

RIHM Oedipus Christof Prick, cond; Andreas Schmidt (Oedipus); William Pell (Kreon); William Dooley (Tiresias); Lenus Carlson (Bote); William Murray (Hirte); Emily Golden (Jokasta); Deutsche Op Berlin O ARTHAUS 101667 (DVD: 95:00)

My first exposure to the music of Wolfgang Rihm came in 1981 when I was still a doctoral composition student at Indiana University. The opera theater there gave the American premiere of his Jakob Lenz one summer. With its minimal staging and unrelentingly dissonant score, I was slow to warm to this work, and to other of Rihm’s works that I encountered thereafter. Eventually, however, I learned his musical language to the extent that I could find beauty in his scores. This was a slow process for me, and some music lovers might be unwilling to undertake the journey that I made. Even at the premiere performance of the present opera Oedipus, there was significant booing to be heard when the composer was called to the stage at the end of the performance. So, Rihm generally, and Oedipus in particular, are tough nuts to crack, but many of those who are persistent with the nutcracker, will eventually find the meat beneath the shell.

Rihm, drafting his own libretto, follows the famed tragedy of Sophocles quite closely. The plot, for those of you who might have by now forgotten it from your course in ancient Greek literature, involves Oedipus, King of Thebes, being told that a plague in the city can only be ended by the capture of the murderer of the previous king, Laius. The only person in the city (including Oedipus himself) who knows the truth that Oedipus is the actual murderer is the blind prophet Tiresias. Flashback to Laius, then still alive, who was told by a helpful oracle that he would be killed by his son, inspiring his orders that his young son be killed. (Please pardon a smidgen of logic at this point, but one wonders why someone who puts enough faith in an oracle to give it such credence would then believe that he could circumvent its prophecy.) Contra Laius’s orders, the child is actually sent out to die from exposure, and is rescued by a passing shepherd, who arranges for him to be raised by Polybus, another king. Hearing about the prophecy of the oracle himself, and not knowing that Polybus is not actually his father, Oedipus flees from the area so that the prophecy will have no chance of being fulfilled. Along his escape route, he encounters a party of travelers who demand that he give right of passage. Refusing, he ends up killing all but one of the party, who manages to escape. You guessed it: Laius was among the men killed, and the lone escapee is none other than the shepherd who years earlier rescued Oedipus, who himself is also aware of the other part of the oracle’s prophecy, namely that he would commit incest with his mother.

Thinking that he is also safely away from his mother, he takes Jokasta (Laius’s widow) in Thebes as his wife, and yes, you’re right again: Jokasta is actually his mother. Well, to make a long story short, Jokasta hangs herself after she discovers the truth, and Oedipus blinds himself after he discovers the (very dead) Jokasta hanging around the palace, and is banished from Thebes by the ever-helpful chorus.

The performance by the Deutsche Oper Berlin of the 1987 premiere gives as compelling a presentation of the then-new work as it is likely to receive in the foreseeable future. The singers are all in fine voice: The full-throated baritone of Andreas Schmidt is robust and resonant, and dramatically appropriate to the role. The role of Tiresias is sung by high tenor William Dooley, whose penetrating vocal quality seems just right for a prophet, especially a blind one. William Pell, as Oedipus’s brother-in-law Kreon, William Murray, who plays the shepherd, tortured into revealing the truth about Oedipus’s past, and Emily Golden, who vividly fulfills the role of Jokasta, all acquit themselves splendidly. Without recourse to a score, I cannot state that all of these singers are hitting all of the notes in their vocally demanding parts, but they convince me that they are. I would quibble about only two relatively minor points: The acting of most of the cast is a bit wooden. Given that it’s not confined to one or two of the singers, I suspect this is the stage director’s doing. Schmidt spends a good deal of time singing without moving at all, in fact. Another quirk is the costuming, which ranges from the principals’ quasi-pseudo-ersatz antiquity period costumes to the chorus that is garbed in what appears to be 19th-century business suits, to the men in very contemporary bio-hazard suits that appear at the beginning of the opera to dispose of the plague-filled corpses. I suppose this anachronistic spread in costuming is supposed to mean something profound, but it’s beyond my simple mind. The sets are minimalist, in keeping with many German productions of the era. These don’t bother me as much in this kind of an opera as they would, say, in Der Freischütz. (That particular opera comes to mind, because the most elaborate sets and production I’ve ever seen of any opera was a Freischütz done at the Vienna State Opera in the summer of 1972.)

I have to be careful, then, to recommend a DVD such as this, guessing that likely no more than 5-10 percent of Fanfare’s readership would enjoy it. By now, if you’ve followed me this far, you probably know if you fall into that elite group, and if so, I recommend this as a powerful treatment of a fascinating story from antiquity.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
Read less

Works on This Recording

Oedipus by Wolfgang Rihm
Performer:  Lenus Carlson (Baritone), William Murray (Bass), William Dooley (Baritone),
William Pell (Tenor), Andreas Schmidt (Baritone), Emily Golden (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Christof Prick
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus,  Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986-1987 
Date of Recording: 1987 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title