Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Back in May, Gary Schoepfel, HMU Tutor, invited all of us to ‘think about’ Julie Taymor’s staged Oedipus opera*. I love the text and, having never seen an operatic performance of it, was intrigued. The opera has more than enough elements to interest me: text by Sophocles, music by Stravinsky, staging and puppetry by Taymor. And still, I was shocked, pleasantly shocked, and found myself rewatching sections of it with avid curiosity.
Lucky for me, Oedipus was also listed as a course on HMU’s 2014-2015 continuing education film series. So I jumped at the opportunity to not only watch the opera, but discuss both text and opera. First of all, I must admit, I enjoy theater, but I am not overly knowledgeable about it. I have seen some of Taymor’s productions with vivid puppetry (including Lion King) and enjoyed them all immensely. I admit, however, that after watching a production like The Lion King, I did not deconstruct the meaning behind each character. This time, however, my intent was to discuss Oedipus, both text and opera, in our continuing ed course and so I focused a bit more on details. And having reviewed the opera a couple of times, I am more than impressed.
First, Taymor’s use of masks is exceptional. Stoic masks sit above the heads of the singers, which highlight their internal (personal) versus external (political) lives. The masks’ eyes reinforce the characters’ various levels of awareness: opening, shut or all-knowing. In addition to the masks, Taymor fashioned large hands that also reflect personalities in various states of: open, searching, reaching, closed and angular. These characters, then, use masks and hands in profound movements, rising with song and falling with emotion, which develop the necessary tension and action. Finally, costumes and colors complete a poetic and extremely descriptive version of Sophocles’ play. For example, a red cloth unravels throughout the play, depicting both the road Oedipus has traveled and the spilled blood, blood of father, mother and son. This red cloth visually describes the way that Oedipus unknowingly completes the prophecy. Members of the cast appear in tatters, depicting the awful state of affairs in Oedipus’ kingdom. There are many examples of brilliant and bizarre staging that I could add…makeup, narration, voice… but I think you have the idea.
To top it all off, I was fortunate enough to benefit from an excellent and insightful discussion. It is amazing to think, often I have read a piece many times, and yet, each time I discuss it or each time I see a new production, I find a detail (or two) that I previously missed. I discover another’s perspective that adds to my own. Opera is a beautiful and fitting approach for Oedipus and my personal reading of the text definitely benefited from the film. In addition, the group discussion could have continued all night. I could go on, but really, I just want to reiterate Gary’s original message and encourage you to watch it. And, if you get the chance, discuss it too.
For more information about the 2015 Film Series, check out HMU’s Continuing Education page: http://hmu.edu/continuing-education/ .
*Read Gary Schoepfel’s original blog here: http://hmu.edu/blog/2014/5/30/film-review-oedipus-rex.html .