Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: Felix Mendelssohn’s “Oedipus at Colonus” (1894)

A new work to me, the ten-scene opera entitled “Oedipus at Colonus” (Op.93) follows the Greek tragedy written by Sophocles during the 1st century, included in his “Three Thebian Plays.” Recently, in 2010 the work had its contemporary revival and its now recorded for future generations.

For some context, the work was a commission by Frederick William IV of Prussia in order to encourage Berlin audiences to pay more attention to the classical works of Greek theatre, particularly tragedy. Featuring two soloists, a double male chorus, and an orchestra of 15 instruments, the opera is a captivating and highly sophisticated look at the horrors that befell Oedipus at the end of his life. To summarize, Oedipus (Rex) is a figure doomed to fate and try as he might, he ends up killing his father and marrying his mother unknowingly. At the knowledge of this, he claws his own eyes out while his mother hangs herself in despair and shame.

The opera received its first (private) performance at the Neues Palais in Potsdam, Germany on November 1st, 1845. Nine days later, the work received its first public performance in Stuttgart. According to knowledge of the work, it was relatively popular during Mendelssohn’s time and even received performance within and outside Germany. However, for audiences outside Germany the work may not be familiar if known at all.

If you’d like to learn more, I have linked some academic sources for you to read:

  1. Jason Duane Geary (2004): “Ancient voices: Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Sophocles’s “Antigone” and “Oedipus at Colonus.”
  2. Maria Teresa Arfini (2015): “Around Antigone: The Iconography and Music in the German Revival of the Classical Tragedy.”

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