Review: Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding in Brooklyn

A scene from Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding at BAM Fisher. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

BROOKLYN – The myth of Oedipus has long been an inspiration to artists from ancient times to the present. The tragedy by Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus (Oedipus the King), opens with the city of Thebes suffering from a plague which will end once the murderer of the previous king, Laius, is found. Oedipus searches for the killer unaware that he himself is in fact the killer. The truth is eventually revealed that Oedipus unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, though Laius had left baby Oedipus exposed on a mountain to die in order to avoid his fate. Oedipus had been saved by a shepherd and given to the king of Corinth and raised as his own.

After hearing the prophecy of his own fate, Oedipus left Corinth and kills an old man (Laius) and four out of five of the old man’s servants at a crossroads after arguing over being run off the road. Oedipus then eventually arrives at the gates of Thebes and solved the riddle of the Sphinx which asked “What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and on three legs at night?” Oedipus answered, “A human being.” The Sphinx then kills herself out of anger and the Thebans reward Oedipus by marrying him to Jocasta, their queen, again not knowing that she’s his mother.

Oedipus Sex with Mum Was Blinding, conceived, written and directed by Ellie Papakonstantinou with original music by Telemachos Moussas and Julia Kent picks up on the iconic themes of the tragedy and reconfigures them in an immersive opera that ran at BAM Fisher in Brooklyn, September 25-29. The limited engagement was the first stop of an international tour and the show will be staged next in Athens, Greece, later this fall.

The cast and creator of the show Elli Papakonstantinou take a curtain call following a performance of Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding at BAM Fisher. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The opera featured Nassia Gofa, Elias Husiak, Anastasia Katsinavaki, Theodora Loukas, Lito Messini, Manos Tsakiris, Julia Kent (cello), Misha Piatigorsky (piano), Hassan Estakhrian, Barbara Nerness (electroacoustic environments), and Stephanie Sherriff (live cinematic environment). Lighting design is also Elli Papakonstantinou. Mask concepts, design and materialization are by Maritina Keleri and Chrysanthi Avloniti, and Costume Design by Jolene Richardson. Professor Manos Tsakiris, who also appeared in the show as the Researcher, is also the Scientific Advisor for the opera.

The challenging material of the tragedy is reimagined in this production which mixes traditional performance with cutting-edge technology and emerging neuroscience and brings the audience into the action of the play as part of the Chorus. The talented singers demonstrated an impressive range in the piece, and the performers dealt admirably with the demands of the show. Among them, Theodora Loukas gave another powerful, emotionally-charged performance as Woman.

Papakonstantinou is a 2018-19 Fulbright Artist’s Award recipient, visiting scholar at Stanford University, and 2018-19 Music Theatre Now international award recipient.

Using new technologies which turn the audience into the actual chorus of the opera, the piece rediscovers the community at the heart of a political performance, as it was in ancient times.

Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding was performed at BAM Fisher in Brooklyn. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Partly developed during the director’s stay at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University, Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding also sees artists and scientists joining forces on a new neuroscientific case study. The study asks: Are we free? Dο we experience free will? Are there real alternatives, or is all that takes place the outcome of necessity? An exploration into determinism and self, the answers describe either our majesty or captivity.

Those familiar with the story of Oedipus and Freud’s Oedipus complex will certainly have a great deal to discuss after seeing this immersive opera which is definitely not your mother’s Oedipus.

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