Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex at Salzburg

Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex is a short work and it was a good idea of the Salzburg Landestheater to perform it alongside Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and a ballet based on Medea in an evening of Greek drama, the different theatrical perspectives bringing additional power to the tragedies. But, with a large chorus and (here) a troupe of dancers, it was not easy to stage the opera-oratorio in the wide yet narrow space of the Felsenreitschule. Carl Philipp von Maldeghem’s production was strong on narrative, particularly in the movement of the individual protagonists; for example, he made excellent use of the galleries on the rock face at the rear of the performance area. Inevitably, however, the Thebes populace were cramped and an excess of choreographed jerks and bodily contortions became distracting rather than compelling. So too one became irritated by the trite image of Oedipus obsessively wiping imagined blood from his hands.

The most impressive aspect of the performance was veteran Dennis Russell Davies’ conducting of the Mozarteum Orchestra. Precise in the playing of the neo-classical rhythms and phrasing, he was yet able to draw out drama from the astringent harmonies and resonant chords. It was asking much of the predominantly young cast to project their solo utterances across the expanses of the auditorium and, while Roman Payer in the title role gained vocally in confidence and power as the performance progressed, it was only the warm-voiced Aude Extrémo as Jocasta who was able fully to communicate her scorn and unjustified pride to the audience.