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American premiere of Enescu opera to take place at Illinois

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor


Sherban Lupu
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Faculty 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.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — 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 us.”

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 Institute.

“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 campus.”

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: