Libretto by Cocteau based on Sophocles (L-F,L-E,L-G)
Stravinsky called Oedipus Rex an “opera-oratorio” and instructed that it be staged with minimal movement; the principal singers are to wear masks. Crucial to the work’s aesthetic was the decision to set a Latin text—a choice, Stravinsky wrote, with “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.” The impersonal grandeur of Stravinsky’s retelling is signalled by the opening chorus. At the same time, Oedipus’ downfall is vividly delineated by the gradual defoliation of his vocal line. The musical trajectory—a throbbing engine of fate—is as undeflectable as the drama. In spite of Stravinsky’s principles and pronouncements—that music “is powerless to express anything at all”—the opera culminates in catharsis. Sophocles’ great tale of submission to fate resonates with Stravinsky’s religious sensibility: of submission to God.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to Boosey & Hawkes / Joseph Horowitz.