Direct Download Carl Orff - Oedipus der Tyrann (Blunier Darmstadt, 2007) DVD (Opera)

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Following the premiere of Oedipus der Tyrann on December 11, 1959, in the course of an Orff Festival given at Stuttgart's Württemberg State Theatre, Time's correspondent Paul Moor put the matter succinctly: "For a non-German-speaking audience, this opera has long boring stretches because the music is so subservient to the text.

Nevertheless, Orff has created a theater work of gripping power." Orff ensured that Oedipus der Tyrann would forever be for a limited audience of connoisseurs by setting Hölderlin's free translation of Sophocles' King Oedipus in its entirety and forbidding its translation, thus treating Hölderlin's verse as Holy Writ, as Othmar Schoeck had, similarly, in setting Kleist's Penthesilea -- "Not a comma not in Kleist!"-- though he had no qualms about condensing Kleist's episodic drama. This reverence before a sacred text is affected by both performers and audiences on the rare occasions when Oedipus der Tyrann is staged. But, for Orff, the primary consideration was loss of control over a dauntingly punctilious setting of the German verse that would have been inevitably compromised in another language. The vocal techniques, already heard in Antigonae (1949) -- setting another Hölderlin translation of Sophocles -- range from monotone, or declamation upon a single tone, chant and singing, through Sprechgesang and Sprechstimme following the rhythmic geste and speech melos of Hölderlin's verse, to outbursts of anguished melismatic ululation. Similar to the forces marshaled for Antigonae, the orchestra for Oedipus consists of nine double basses (the only strings), flutes, oboes, trombones, four harps, a celesta, mandolin, six pianos, and a very large battery of percussion, including two xylophones, two marimbas, a tambourine, castanets, glockenspiel, Javanese gong, a variety of drums, three tam-tams, and so on, though the accompaniment they afford is sparingly used, making the already austere orchestral complement of Antigonae seem almost luxurious in comparison. For those with German, or who know their Sophocles, the upshot is, indeed, "a theater work of gripping power," if challenging. It is of some interest that Orff's concern to project speech melos while rejecting operatic treatment was shared by Harry Partch, whose King Oedipus (1951) sets W.B. Yeats' translation of Sophocles' play for four "intoner-actors" accompanied by double bass, cello, clarinet, and nine of his unique instruments, mostly percussion, created for the microtonal soundworld Partch evolved for "impressing the intangible beauty of tone into the vital power of the spoken word." The similarities in these works are striking, and fortuitous, marking the long-sought primacy of the word achieved at last in musical theater.
DVD-9 -Video
English and German subtitles
126 min.; frame size: 16 : 9







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