Thursday 24 September 2015

Œdipe sur la route

Oedipe sur la Route - Pierre Bartholomee
Pierre Bartholomee Œdipe sur la route; Jose van Dam, Valentine Valente, Orchestra de la Monnaie, Daniele Callegari; Evidence
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 31 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Contemporary opera based on Pierre Bachau's post-Freudian novel about Oedipus

Henry Bauchau (1913-2012) was a Belgian psycho-analyst, lawyer and author; in the late 1940's he lived in Paris and was a friend of Albert Camus, Andre Gide, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. His book Œdipe sur la route (1990; Oedipus on the Road) is a post-Freudian version of the Greek tragic hero’s transformation in the 20 years that elapse between Sophocles’ accounts of events at Thebes and Colonus. When the composer Pierre Bartholomee was commissioned by the Theatre Royale de la Monnaie in Brussels for a new opera, he persuaded Henry Bachau to turn Œdipe sur la route into an opera and Bartholomee's Œdipe sur la route with a libretto by Henry Bachau was premiered in 2003 (when the author was 90!) with Jose van Dam (aged 63) in the title role. The performance, conducted by Daniele Callegari with Valentina Valente as Antigone, was recorded for video on the final night of the run. The audio track has now been re-processed and issued as a CD on Evidence (distributed by Harmonia Mundi).

Composer Pierre Bartholomee (born 1937) trained as a pianist and founded, with composer Henri Pousseur, the Ensemble Musique Nouvelle and Centre de Recherches et de Création Musicales de Wallonie. His career as a pianist was combined with that of composer and  Œdipe sur la route was his first opera to be followed by two more (La Lumiere Antigone also to a libretto by Henry Bauchau premiered in 2008).

Œdipe sur la route is written for a large ensemble, 14 singers, choir and large orchestra. Bauchau's book is post-Freudian and the opera is discursive and allusive with 36 short scenes and three interludes lasting just over 120 minutes in four acts. The two major roles are for Oedipe (Jose van Dam) and Antigone (Valentina Valente) with numerous smaller roles contributing.

Pierre Bartholomée, Oedipe sur la Route. José Van Dam.  Photo (c) Johann Jacobs / Théâtre de la Monnaie de Bruxelles
Oedipe sur la Route with José Van Dam. 
Photo (c) Johann Jacobs / Théâtre de la Monnaie de Bruxelles
Bartholomee's style involves expressionist vocal lines and extensive orchestral contributions. The result has a sense of drama but also an evenness of overall texture as Bartholomee's vocal lines are a form of continuous arioso. He sets Bachau's dialogue straight, as a flowing texture with no interruptions for arias. But the orchestra make an important contribution and of equal weight to the voices is the way that the orchestra comments and adds to the dialogue.  Whilst Bartholomee's style is influenced by Henri Pousseur (1929-2009), the vocal writing is fundamentally tonal but certainly taxing as Bartholomee's use of wide and uneven intervals without any sense of melodic lyricism. The orchestral writing matches this, but I also picked up hint of the sound-world of Shostakovich.

I think to fully appreciate this opera, you have to immerse yourself in the libretto and Henry Bauthau's post-Freudian meditation on what was happening to Oedipus. The diction on the recording is admirable, so that you can follow the French with clarity. Slightly annoyingly, the texts (French and English) are not printed in parallel in the booklet but completely separately.

Jose van Dam's performance is towering as Oedipe, whilst Valentina Valente gives a strongly dramatic account of Antigone though occasionally she does sound a little wild. The other singers are sometimes a trifle strenuous, perhaps reflecting the fact that this was a live performance of a taxing and complex contemporary work.

Frankly, I am still unsure of the work finding Bartholomee's sound world unsettling and uneasy, but then he is writing about a difficult and unsettling subject. It is a compact, multi-layered and multi-sectional mosaic with lots of short scenes, some dramatic and some contemplative but all highly allusive. But by the end I was finding that the same-ness of texture rather worrying, the sense that the opera was a continuum rather than a piece of drama which moved from beginning to end.

Pierre Bartholomee (born 1937) - Œdipe sur la route (2003) [126.13]
Oedipe - Jose van Dam
Antigone - Valentina Valente
Clios - Jean-Francis Monvoising
Ditone - Hanna Schaer
Calliope - Ruby Philogene
Le Chef du Village - Nabil Suliman
Polynice - Jean-Guy devienne
Eteocle - Marc Coulon
Ilyssa - Elise Gabele
Un Vigneron - Luc de Meulenaere
Le Messager - Niclas Bauchau
These - Paul Gerimon
Ismene - Florence Fischer
Creon - Claudio Graisman
Orchestra Symphonique et Choeurs de las Monnaie
Daniele Callegari (conductor)
Recorded live at Theatre Royale de la Monnaie, Brussels, March 2003
EVIDENCE EVCD011 2CD [73.27, 52.88]
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