Œdipe is truly a masterwork of the 20th century

It is a piece that poses epic questions, a rich, colourful work, and one must be its servant, in order not to obfuscate its clarity – such is his mission as a director and designer of George Enescu’s Œdipe, says Achim Freyer. In her words of welcome to the Terrace Talk, Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler emphasized her delight at having this particular duo produce this opera – Achim Freyer, the director of one of the most successful productions of Die Zauberflöte ever seen at the Festival, and Ingo Metzmacher, who has made a name for himself as a master of musical issues at the Felsenreitschule. “It is his sixth opera at the Festival. I admire the way in which he shapes the masses of sound,” she says.

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Achim Freyer (Director, Sets and Costumes) and Ingo Metzmacher (Conductor). Photos: SF/Anne Zeuner

He considers himself a spartan “theatre-maker”, says Achim Freyer, adding that the viewer is a mirror of what happens on stage. And the audience always imagines a central axis on stage – no matter where they sit in the auditorium, that is always at the back of his mind. Freyer translates the colours of Enescu’s music into light, for light is the sum of colours, and this theatrical material calls for a special development of colour and light. “Oedipus – that is all of us,” says the director and designer. At the beginning of the opera, something is created in black, in darkness, an element wherein we recognize ourselves and which is gradually transformed into light in the course of the opera. “We all are born with genetic guilt; anyone who kills even a mosquito is a murderer, and we undergo a process in which we finally recognize that we are murderers. However, this goes hand in hand with the insight that we still have other chances in life,” says Achim Freyer. He refuses to divulge how the process of becoming lighter might be amplified even further – just so much: “I am not interested in ending up with only white.”

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Ingo Metzmacher. Photo Harald Hoffmann

There are no cuts – every single note is being played, says conductor Ingo Metzmacher. “I find it inappropriate to make cuts to this piece. Each and every note is full of meaning and importance.” In the beginning, it is a difficult score to warm to, but the more time and effort one invests, the clearer it becomes. The fact that Enescu had a clear plan, even though he spent eight years composing the piece, is demonstrated by a single measure which is repeated, says Metzmacher. A horn duet in which one asks oneself – “How does one come up with such music?” – No, he says, it is very difficult to categorize this music. It has allusions to French music, there are quarter-notes in the vocal parts and glissandi which have an almost oriental flair. But there is also music that is simply incomparable. “You can find leitmotifs, but they are not as conspicuous as they are in Wagner’s music,” Ingo Metzmacher points out. The music is composed in the spirit and in keeping with the text, but instead of doubling it, it takes its own stand. The treatment of the voices is also highly interesting. When the situation becomes so monstrous that singing is impossible, Enescu introduces a form of sprechgesang. Christopher Maltman, who embodies the role of Œdipe, gives a masterful rendition of this in the scene after his blinding. Only after his daughter Antigone speaks to him can he sing again. This is a long scene which deserves respect, the conductor says. “Œdipe is truly a masterwork of the 20th century, and I cannot understand why it is not performed more often.”

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Klaus-Peter Kehr (Dramaturgy), Achim Freyer (Director, Sets and Costumes) and Ingo Metzmacher (Conductor)

“On stage, we create something which even we do not fully comprehend,” says Achim Freyer, expressing astonishment that the work is not completely open even to him. “I still have to grow considerably to do this piece justice,” he says. “But we have already delved far into it. And I think it is a very important task to anchor the opera within the audience’s consciousness. Experiencing this opera enriches us.”


Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus. Photo Jäger

The tale is familiar, but in contrast to antiquity, it is told more epically, says the dramaturge Klaus-Peter Kehr. The chorus, for example, can no longer be considered a partner of the figures, but only adds reflexes to the action. The altered question of the sphinx is also an interesting issue, asking what is stronger than fate – the answer being: man. However, it remains unclear whether the question is truly answered, for the sphinx laughs and dies and then makes another appearance on stage. Oedipus will find out whether the answer is correct, says the opera.


Michael Colvin Laïos. Photo Eloise Campbell

The scream of Oedipus also fascinates the director. He wonders whether it refers only to his blinding or also the message that Iocasta, his mother, has killed herself. “In this opera,“ Ingo Metzmacher adds, “one is often caught in a state between waking and dream. All the scenes contain both: the light of insight and sleep.”


Christopher Maltman Œdipe. Photo Pia Clodi

The conductor explains that it was not easy for him to find a score without mistakes. However, he finally encountered a score on a Rumanian website which was the closest representation of Enescu’s facsimile to be found. All other scores were faulty, which may be another reason that cuts were made in earlier productions.


Anaïk Morel Jocaste

At the end of the Terrace Talk, Achim Freyer reveals that he is working on a sculpture about the Oedipus complex, and that it would be his wish to have it erected soon in the Festival district. Anyone interested in his latest works, which were influenced by his work on Œdipe, is invited to visit his exhibition Reflektionen. Momente, on view through 31 August at the ART SPCE stift millstatt in Millstatt (Austria). (After Press materials)

George Enescu (1881 – 1955)

Tragédie lyrique in Four Acts and Six Scenes Op. 23 (1910–1931)

Libretto by Edmond Fleg,
partly after Sophocles’ tragedies Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus

New Production

Premiere: 11 August 2019

Additional performances: 14, 17 and 24 August 2019


Ingo Metzmacher Conductor

Achim Freyer Director, Sets and Costumes

Franz Tscheck Lighting

Benjamin Jantzen Video

Klaus-Peter Kehr Dramaturgy

Christopher Maltman Œdipe

John Tomlinson Tirésias

Brian Mulligan Créon

Vincent Ordonneau Le Berger

David Steffens Le Grand Prêtre

Gordon Bintner Phorbas

Tilmann Rönnebeck Le Veilleur

Boris Pinkhasovich Thésée

Michael Colvin Laïos

Anaïk Morel Jocaste

Ève-Maud Hubeaux La Sphinge

Chiara Skerath Antigone

Anna Maria Dur Mérope

Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor

Wolfgang Götz Children’s Chorus Mater

Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus
Huw Rhys James Chorus Master

Wiener Philharmoniker

Marijan Zlobec

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