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American premiere of Enescu
opera to take place at Illinois
Mitchell, Arts Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
violinist and long-time Sinfonia da Camera concertmaster
Sherban Lupu is orchestrating the American premiere
of the George Enescu opera "Oedipe." The
performance by Sinfonia da Camera will begin at 7:30
p.m. Oct. 15.
— Fifty years after the death of Romanian composer and musician
George Enescu, his opera “Oedipe” – based on the Oedipus
myth – will have its American
premiere, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The semi-staged performance by the U. of I.’s Sinfonia
da Camera, directed and conducted by music professor Ian Hobson, is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in
the Krannert Center for the Performing
Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana. Appearing in the starring role
will be Stefan Ignat. The world-class baritone has performed in opera
houses throughout Europe and Asia, and recently portrayed Oedipe (pronounced
uh-DEEP) in a performance with the Bucharest National Opera at the George
Enescu Festival in Romania.
The cast for the U. of I. production also includes alumni of the university’s
opera program and members of the San Francisco opera, with vocal accompaniment
by the U. of I. Chamber Singers, led by choral music professor and chair
Fred Stoltzfus. The performance is being directed by emeritus professor
of voice Nicholas DiVirgilio. Choreographer and principal dancer is
U. of I. dance professor Philip T. Johnston.
Orchestrating the historic event is the music school’s own resident
Romanian-born musician and Enescu authority: faculty violinist and long-time
Sinfonia da Camera concertmaster Sherban Lupu. The performance is the
centerpiece of a larger event: “Oedipus and Its Interpretations,”
a two-day symposium, Oct. 15-16, planned to attract classicists, musicologists
and literary scholars from throughout the world to the campus to examine
and discuss a variety of topics related to Enescu and the Oedipus story.
The free, public symposium will be held in Room 210 Illini Union, 1401
W. Green St., Urbana, and includes a concert by the U. of I.’s
Enescu Ensemble, conducted by Lupu, at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 in the recital
hall of Smith Hall, 805 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana.
Lupu said Enescu’s musical interpretation, created in collaboration
with poet Edmond Fleg and first produced in Paris in 1936, recasts the
tragic Greek mythical character in a more becoming light than most other
versions. In their interpretation, Enescu and Fleg portrayed Oedipe
– who is exiled from his homeland, unwittingly slays his father
and ultimately consummates a relationship with his mother – as
a courageous figure who challenges the cruel fate he has been dealt,
rather than as a powerless victim.
“The subject considered seems to pertain to us today more than
ever,” Lupu said. “Besides the identity crisis, it has to
do with uprootedness, exile, the search for who we are and why we are
here. These are eternal questions that are particularly of interest
in modern times when these questions become more pertinent in order
to maintain our humanity while we face an ever adverse world around
While “Oedipe” has been performed in opera houses throughout
Europe since its debut, Lupu said he can only venture a guess as to
why it has never been staged in the Western Hemisphere. “Lack
of imagination and adventure?” he offered as a possibility.
The reasons for producing the opera now, at the U. of I., are easier
to pinpoint, however.
“We found the right environment, and it was like a constellation
of events coming together to make it all happen at the right time,”
Lupu said. Among those especially aligned behind the project, he noted,
was “my friend, colleague and collaborator, Ian Hobson, with whom
I’ve played Enescu’s works all over the world. I also found
great support from the College of
Fine and Applied Arts and Dean Kathleen Conlin, the Center
for Advanced Study, Illinois Arts Council and the Romanian Cultural
“But perhaps the reason why it is most appropriate to do this
here is because George Enescu had quite a history at the University
of Illinois. He came to the campus as a visiting artist and professor
in 1948, 1949 and 1950, performing with orchestra and chamber ensemble,
and conducting orchestra and teaching master classes.” From all
reports, Lupu said, Enescu “energized the musical life of the
Lupu has been conducting quite a bit of energy from Enescu’s musical
life-force himself, particularly this year. During the past few months,
Lupu has traveled to China, Hungary, Finland, Poland and Romania to
present Enescu’s music in concert, and will perform in October
in Germany, and on Dec. 4 in New York City’s Merkin Hall. Earlier
this month, he released a CD of previously unknown works for violin
by Enescu. Also released at the same time were six volumes of unknown
works by the composer, edited and arranged by Lupu.
While it may appear that Enescu and his work have functioned as something
of an international passport for the U. of I. professor, he points out
that the door “goes both ways.”
“I’ve also been an emissary … introducing the world
to this towering figure of 20th century music.”
The “Oedipe” Web site: http://www.music.uiuc.edu/sinfonia/oedipus/.