ENESCU: Oedipe
Monte Pederson, bass-baritone (Oedipe); Egils Silins, bass (Tirésias); Davide Damiani, baritone (Créon); Michael Roider, tenor (The Shepherd); Goran Simié (The High Priest); Peter Köves, bass (Phorbas); Walter Fink, bass (The Watchman); Yu Chen, baritone (Thésée); Josef Hopferwieser, tenor (Laïos); Marjana Lipovsek, mezzo-soprano (Jocaste/The Sphinx); Ruxandra Donose, soprano (Antigone); Mihaela Ungureanu, mezzo-soprano (Mérope); Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orch; Vienna Boys Choir; Stage Orchestra of the Austrian Federal Theatres/Michael Gielen, cond.
NAXOS 8.660163/4 (2 disks) TT: 2:08:26

S. WAGNER: Sonnenflammen (Opera in three acts)
Roman Trekel, baritone (Alexios); Michaela Schneider, soprano (Irene); Richard Brunner, tenor (Fridolin); Jürgen Trekel, bass (Albrecht); Niels Giesecke, tenor buffo (Gomella); Eva Bátori, soprano;Ulrike Schneider, alto (Eustachia); Ulrich Studer, baritone (Gottfried); Halle Opera House Chorus and Orch/Roger Epple, cond.
cpo 777 097 (2 disks) TT:64:36 & 68:14

SHOSTAKOVICH: The Nose, Op. 15
Soloists; Lausanne Chamber Och/Armin Jordan, cond.

Three novelties for opera collectors who scorn the beaten path, to the extent of turning up their noses at Puccini’s Edgar, or Donizetti revivals by small (sometimes amateur) companies on hard-to-find labels, or for that matter such pseudo-esoterica as Weber’s Die drei Pintos in Mahler’s completion – not to mention the burst levees of baroque opera from Great Britain. Actually the Wagner opera here – no, not by papa Richard but the eighth of 11 by his only begotten son, Siegfried (1869-1930) – is the single one here that has never had a commercial release. George Enescu’s Oedipe was recorded by EMI at Monte Carlo in 1989 under the baton of Lawrence Foster, with a distinguished cast of contemporary as well as veteran singers headed by José Van Dam in the title role – a performance lasting 2 hours and 37 minutes, whereas the 1997 Vienna Staatsoper version under Michael Gielen on Naxos is almost a half-hour shorter.

Cuts, you ask? Sorry, I don’t know the earlier version and therefore can’t say. But the Vienna performance is a grim experience indeed, gripping in the same way as Wozzeck without Alban Berg’s genius: in other words, don’t expect any Rumanian Rhapsodies. Nonetheless, it is considered to be Enescu’s masterpiece on which he worked 20 years off and on. A 1909 stage performance in Paris of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex planted the seed. With librettist Edmond Fleg he worked from 1911 until the outbreak of WW1, when Enescu returned to Rumania for seven years. He returned to France in 1921, and again with Fleg finished composing a four-act work in French within the year. But he needed a decade to complete the orchestration, after which he waited another five years until the Paris Opéra premiere on March 13, 1936. In spite of its success Oedipedid not remain in the repertory – indeed was quite forgotten until a French radio broadcast in 1955 following the composer’s death, whereupon Bucharest mounted a production in 1958 that amounts to a national monument. In 1997 the Berlin Deutsche Oper and Vienna Staatsoper created a coproduction, recorded by ORF (the Austrian National Radio) preserved on these two discs. Enescu’s vocabulary was tonal but dissonant, featuring quarter-tones characteristic of Rumanian folk-music, both for voices and orchestra. The title role is sung by Monte Pederson, an American making his mark as a dramatic baritone throughout Europe until his death in 2001 at the age of only 43 after a long illness. Jocasta, both mother and wife of Oedipus, is Marjana Lipovsek, who doubles eerily as the Sphinx. The rest are known chiefly in Europe but give gripping performances for Gielen (if not always beautifully sung) as do the orchestra and choirs – the Vienna Boys Choir as well as the Staastoper’s regular chorus. Naxos prints one of Keith Anderson’s admirable plot synopses but no text. The program book does include, however, a detailed background essay by Peter Blaha, Vienna’s Chief Dramaturg. The sound is stereo and superior to many ORF recordings from the Staatsoper heard on past discs. Finally, two Naxos discs for the price of one is a bargain rarity-mavens can hardly afford to ignore.

Wagner’s son “Fidi” (about whom he wrote the Siegfried Idyland then married Cosima Liszt von Bülow to legitimize him) seems not to have cared much for Papa. Two examples: He reverted to the vocabulary of Tannhäuserwith advances in orchestration that King Richard later created, and in this opera made the court jester in the Byzantine court of King Alexois a parody of his father – a “tenor buffo”who is clever, untrustworthy, and willing to exploit his daughter for political gain. But Gomella, although “first jester,” is a secondary principal. The protagonist is a Franconian knight, Fridolin, who has killed the husband of his mistress in a duel and fled to the fleshpots of Byzantium after promising to join a Crusade to destroy Alexois and his decadent kingdom. In a Prelude and three acts lasting 2 hours and 13 minutes we also have Iris, Gomella’s daughter, whom Fridolin loves in vain, the Emperor’s wife Irene whose only child is a “sick, degenerate” prince, her servant Eustachia, a prostitute Eunoë, the Knight Gottfried who stops by Byzantium, Fridolin’s father Albrecht who is shamed by his son’s cowardice, and seveal others who double in minor roles before the Crusaders burn Byzantium and Fridolin commits suicide. Sonnenflammen (The Flames of the Sun) could called melodious without being memorably melodic: despite all the action, it seems twice as long as its actual length. Perhaps with heroic singers such as Papa and his “heir” Richard Strauss enjoyed, Sonnenflammen might leave a stronger impression, although the cast is stalwart and the forces of the Opera House at Halle stentorian, stirringly conducted by Richard Epple – a “Fidi” fan who has vowed to make his idol widely famous. The recording, from the G.-F.-Handel-halle in January 2003, was co-produced by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk and cpo, and is altogether excellent. For those with (1) the curiosity, (2) the appetite, and (3) interested in the contents of a richly detailed, trilingual program book (which mentions casually in passing that “Fidi,” in part the basis for Fridolin, was bisexual).

There is a lot less I can say about Le Nez, which is none other than a Frenchification of The Nose, Shostakovich’s saucy 1928 opera based verbatim on Gogol’s satire. There was a 1975 Melodiya recording with Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting the Moscow Chamber Theater Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra, briefly reissued in 1998. This newer one from Lausanne was recorded by Cascavelle in 2001 under Armin Jordan’s direction, in Russian according to a friend who understands the language, but otherwise everything is in French – packaging, synopsis, libretto. I neither read nor understand French, other than a handful of useful words and phrases, and therefore can only report that the set does exist, expensively to be sure, on special order from Arkiv. Another website still carries a synopsis and review of the 1975 recording, and concludes by declaring it the funniest work ever. Listening in part I simply could not tell, beyond cruel demands made upon its singers by the youthful composer in his most avant-garde style, before Stalin detested the subsequent Lady Macbeth from the District of Mzensk and damned a style that had known no terrors, or boundaries. Conclusion: Attendez, Francophiles. Everyone else: Approach with extreme care!

R.D. (February 2006)