'Oedipus Rex' performance to tide one over for years

February 19, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex" is a strange work. It is, as the composer himself proudly remarked, uncomfortably situated between oratorio and opera. It was such discomfort that the composer aimed at. He asked his librettist, Jean Cocteau, to cast the woStravinsky's "Oedipus Rex" is a strange work. It is, as the composer himself proudly remarked, uncomfortably situated between oratorio and opera. It was such discomfort that the composer aimed at. He asked his librettist, Jean Cocteau, to cast the work in Latin, thus assuring that most of his audience could not easily understand it. And the music makes an impression of tremendous coldness -- at the most intense moments of the drama, Stravinsky almost mocks the agony of his characters. It is music that was composed for the sake of its almost mathematical beauty rather than for human expressiveness. It is not a work one wants to hear more than once every few years.

It was fortunate, therefore, that last night's performance by David Zinman, the Baltimore Symphony and Chorus and several soloists in Meyerhoff Hall was good enough for several years to come. Zinman, who clearly understands the work's deliberate coldness and just as clearly loves it, elicited a fine performance of this difficult music from his orchestra, one with rhythmic energy and force of accent. The best singers were John Aler, who got stronger and stronger in the title role, and Tatiana Troyanos, who was an extraordinarily imposing Jocasta. David Gordon made a capable Shepherd. But John Shirley-Quirk, as Creon and the Messenger, could barely be heard; this distinguished musician is now singing with a thread of a voice. The Narrator, James Earl Jones, struck exactly the right note, delivering the part in no-nonsense manner and with a ringing voice. The all-male chorus was beautifully prepared by chorusmaster Edward Polochick.

Bach's "Magnificat," which opened the program, was less successful. The full complement of the BSO Chorus overwhelmed the reduced orchestra. And while most of the singers -- particularly mezzo Nancy Maultsby -- performed capably, soprano Kaaren Erickson sang with an annoyingly wide vibrato.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15.

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