Stravinsky Oedipus Rex, 1927

Stravinsky goes neo-classical

Oedipus Rex was first performed – as a concert piece - in 1927, while Stravinsky was in France.  Jean Cocteau wrote the libretto (then translated into Latin). Having sought a classical subject, the composer chose a ‘dead’ language, writing ‘The choice had the great advantage of giving me a medium not dead but turned to stone and so monumentalized as to have become immune from all risk of vulgarization.’ link Cocteau also performed as ‘chorus’. ‘Although Stravinsky disliked him playing to the gallery, having Cocteau as your Master of Ceremonies did seem to legitimize the work's diversity of style.’ (The Gramophone) ‘In a gesture characteristic of his rootless artistry throughout a long career as a displaced person, he decided that a work by a Russian drawn from a Greek tragedy would be sung in a dead language, Ciceronian Latin, and narrated in the language of whatever country in in
which it was performed. Furthermore, he intended that the theatrical style be static and impersonal, with singers preferably masked to enhance what tradition insists was the ritualistic aura of ancient Grecian tragedy.’ (NY Times) Oedipus Rex follows Sophocles closely, and with careful attention to neoclassical goals. ‘Neoclassicism was, for the 20th century, rather like the Renaissance was for the 16th century: a time to return to aesthetic precepts from past times: order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint. In many ways it was a reaction to the extreme emotions of Romanticism and a way of calming the craziness of the early 20th century experimenters.’ (Interlude)

The story

and the


The myth of Oedipus is faithfully reproduced from Sophocles’ play though of course a short oratorio can’t deal with the moral complexities. Should a modern Oedipus  reproduce the style and world of classical greek tragedy,  or re-express the tale for a modern world-view? Download an interesting discussion here.  And a complex, opinionated discussion here.

Our Production - Tokyo 1993

Take an oratorio to Japan, with the great scenic designer Julie Taymor (Lion King) for a festival in 1992 and what do you get? The result was filmed in 1993 by Taymor for television – and us. Cast: Kayoko Shiraishi (Narrator), Philip Langridge (Oedipus), Jessye Norman (Jocasta), and Bryn Terfel (Creon), with Seiji Ozawa conducting. Read a review. Watch an excerpt, and another