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Oedipus Rex - Iolanta

Igor Strawinsky 1882-1971
Peter I. Tschaikowski 1840-1893

Oedipus Rex

Opera oratorio in two acts
Libretto by Jean Cocteau based on Sophocles' tragedy (429 —425 B.C.) First performed (in concert) May 30 1927, Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, Paris. Revised edition (1948)
Sung in Latin with German and English surtitles


Lyric opera in one act
Libretto by Modest I. Tchaikovsky, based on Henrik Herz's play Kong Renés Datter (1845)
First performed December 18 1892, Mariinski Theater, St. Petersburg
Sung in Russian with German and English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before performances begin.

Oedipus was given the throne and the widowed Queen Jocasta in return for delivering Thebes from the Sphinx. The city is now afflicted by the plague. Act 1 The people beg Oedipus to help. Jocasta's brother Creon, who Oedipus sent to Delphi to consult the oracle, returns and reports: King Laios' murderer is in Thebes; if he is found and thrown out, the plague will end. Oedipus turns to the blind seer Teresias, who says nothing, drawing suspicion upon himself. Then Teresias announces that the man they seek is a King. Oedipus now suspects that his brother-in-law, with help from the seer, wants to take his place on the throne. Act 2 Jocasta is certain that all oracles lie. She says that Laios was killed on a crossroads … Oedipus feels sick, the terrible truth is dawning on him. He wants to question the only witness of Laios' murder. The messenger and shepherd, who then arrive, reveal the truth: Oedipus was found as a baby, with pierced, bound feet, abandoned by his parents Laios and Jocasta, and given to King Polybos of Corinth, whose death has just been announced. Oedipus realises he is a patricide and has committed incest.
Blind Iolanta lives as her father King René wishes, cut off from the outside world. René forces his subordinates to maintain a framework that keeps his daughter in ignorance of her blindness and doesn't interfere with his obsessive paternal love. The nurse Martha and her daughters Brigitta and Laura care for Iolanta. To ensure the smooth running of his set up, René pretends to want the Arabian doctor Ibn-Hakia to treat Iolanta. When he claims that Iolanta really could be cured if she was made aware of her blindness and wanted to see, René forbids it. Robert, Duke of Burgundy, and his friend Vaudémont are lost. Robert, who was engaged to Iolanta when they were children, raves about the attractive Countess Mathilde, while Vaudémont dreams of true love. They both ignore a sign saying: »Entry forbidden upon penalty of death« and find themselves – in ignorance of the person they find there – in Iolanta's room. Robert reacts with displeasure and disappears. Vaudémont and Iolanta immediately fall in love. While he tells her about light and the beauty of the world, she gradually begins to realise that she lacks a fundamental sense of perception. René is beside himself with rage when he finds them together and hears that Vaudémont has told Iolanta about her blindness. Ibn-Hakia shall now treat Iolanta and Vaudémont, if the cure fails, as the King is sure it will, must die. Iolanta, prepared to do everything she can to save her beloved, places herself in the doctor's hands. Iolanta can now see and starts to try and make sense of the deceptive world she has lived in for so many years …

Two operas - two people who refuse accept their fate: a king who must face the fact that he was blind to the truth for many years, and a blind king's daughter who, at her father's behest, knows nothing of her impairment, but gains knowledge and is able to see at last, though love.  While one can free herself from having bow to somebody else's will, the other – in submitting to his mythological fate – must look his heteronomy straight in the eye: Being able to see clearly again can lead to catastrophy...

Peter Tchaikovsky, and his librettist brother Modest, chose an internationally popular fairy tale for his lyric opera Iolanta: it deals with hidden secrets and things suppressed in the depths of the soul. More than thirty years later came Igor Stravinsky's two act opera-oratorio: Oedipus Rex – which also deals with escaping surpressed fears. Tchaikovsky's last opera, first performed in 1892, the same year his Nutcracker ballet exploded onto the scene, keeps Iolanta's process of realisation very focussed on a musical level – in a one act work with a vivid, brightly coloured, shimmering musical language. Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau, on the other hand, fully intended to reach monumental heights in two acts. They created a mixture of music stereotypes and patterns: fateful, pulsating rhythms combine with harmonies, influences drawn from the Middle Ages, Russian orthodox church music and folk music, classic and jazz – just like in one of Schwitter's Merz pictures, a surreal collage technique, a fragmentation of reality, from a time between the wars.