Oedipus Rex: Julie Taymor’s Opera Film

Aesthetic innovation and technical sophistication mark every aspect of Julie Taymor’s new version of Oedipus Rex, from the singing of a first-rate international cast to the gorgeous set and costume design to the innovative sound and editing. Successfully blending theatrical, cinematic, and musical conventions, Oedipus Rex is a unique opera film: a stunningly visual work destined to become a classic with art-house audiences and eventually public TV viewers.

Filmed in super 16mm, this opera film is based on footage from two live performances, conducted by Seiji Ozawa in a musical festival in Japan, and one week of additional shooting. As director, Taymor realizes Stravinsky’s wish to find a universal meaning in Sophocles’ well-known play. In fact, she distills the play’s dramatic essence by concentrating on the audio-visual dimensions of her elaborate production.

The colorful, multi-layered stage is always a feast for the eyes. The impressive digital sound editing is so subtle that the transitions from close-ups to long-range shots are hardly noticeable. More importantly, Taymor resists the temptation to interrupt the opera’s great arias, performed to perfection by Jessye Norman and her colleagues, with unnecessary camera movement and cuts.

Taymor and her international artists have effectively created a production that at once evokes ancient Greece and modern civilization. The dramatic narration by Kayoko Shiraishi, a
famous Japanese actress, imbues this classic work with timeless meanings. Helmer uses the play and opera as allegory for any society that suffers from corruption and moral deterioration and thus needs to purify itself.

An Igor Stravinsky opera, libretto by Jean Cocteau, conducted by Seiji Ozawa at the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan, September 1992.

Jocasta…….Jessye Norman
Oedipus….Philip Langridge
Creon………..Bryn Terfel
Narrator…Kayoko Shiraishi