The latest production of Enescu Oedipe at La Monnaie/ De Munt in Brussels is now available free HERE until 2nd December. Leo Hussain conducts, which is immediately a plus, as he's very good. This version's infinitely sharper than the 2002 Edinburgh Festival performance which I learned the opera from. Evan Dickerson, the leading Enescu specialist, covered the 2008 Toulouse Production (Steinberg). This cast includes Dietrich Henschel, Jan-Hendrick Rootering, John Graham-Hall, Natasha Petrinsky, Robert Bork, Henk Neven, Ilse Eerens and the remarkable Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Direction and design by Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrsaco, forces behind La Fura dels Baus.
I'd heard horror stories about the production, since La Fura dels Baus are controversial, but it was much better than I feared. Dark and forbidding - but this is a strange world, with irrational curses and tense, brutalized citizens, threatened by plagues, wars and disaster. A whole society in permanent state of anxiety. Of course it's not pretty. Images are glimpsed in shadow, as elusive as images in a nightmare. Yet this reflects Enescu's music, which throbs and flows like an invisible organism, the vocal parts signposts to meaning. (Read NW-Paris's comment on my recent opera dream. Maybe prophecy is still with us.) So I don't have any problem with the Sphinx depicted as old fashioned aeroplane. Planes have wings, too, and often have female names. Sphinxes are quixotic! When Marie-Nicole Lemieux crawls onto the fuselage, she sings with demonic force. Fabulously effective. In a way, one might read the Sphinx as mother/wife. Since she's powerful, and female, she "must" be destroyed.
The production is claustrophobic, but that adds to the sense of foreboding. Jocasta "with the white arms" follows Oedipe in marriage and looks back, her arms now covered in blood. When Oedipus exits life, he walks through a narrow passage into light. Birth canal anxiety? Freud would have read much into this. So watch and listen. I won't say "enjoy", but this is a thoughtful approach to an opera which can be deeply disturbing. Read the plot beforehand as a lifeline.