This film is a tour de force from Julie Taymor who directs and does the stage design and masks. No-one comes near to matching her imagination on the modern operatic stage. Since making this film in 1992 she has had much success in film-making and in directing musicals. One can only hope that she can be persuaded to return to opera one day. I would love to see a Ring cycle directed by her. The current Rheingold at Covent Garden has giants with over-sized hands just like the characters in this film. The current Butterfly at ENO uses Japanese puppetry. Coincidence maybe, or evidence that Taymor's influence is pervasive.
Taymar uses fantastical costumes, masks, puppets, and origami birds to recreate the story of Oedipus on a stage set on stilts above a lake. Red ribbons are a recurring theme. They are used as an umbilical chord when Oedipus is born, they hang down from Oedipus's eyes after he has blinded himself, in a breathtaking effect they are used to make a crossroads when Oedipus's slaying of his father is reenacted by puppets.
This neo-classical opera-ballet by Stravinsky enjoyed justified obscurity until this film brought it to life. The music is uninspired but inoffensive and Philip Langridge, Jesse Norman and a very young Bryn Terfel make the most of it. The singers are fairly immobile, in accordance with Stravinsky's wishes. Min Tanaka is the dancing Oedipus to Langridge's singing Oedipus. This creates some slight confusion towards the end when dancing Oedipus pokes out the eyes of singing Oedipus.
The libretto is in Latin but do not worry if your high-school Latin is a bit rusty. There is a helpful narrator who introduces and describes each scene in Japanese.
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