- Erik Levi
Tragedy in five acts by Carl Orff to Sophocles’ drama translated into German by Friedrich Hölderlin; Salzburg, Felsenreitsschule, 9 August 1949.
After the death of Oedipus, King of Thebes, his sons Eteocles and Polyneices were supposed to share the throne. But the brothers quarrelled and Polyneices fled to Argos to organize an army in order to occupy Thebes. The revolt was suppressed when the brothers killed each other. The opera begins as Creon (baritone) succeeds to the throne. He decrees that anyone who contemplates burying Polyneices will be put to death. But Oedipus’s daughter Antigone (dramatic soprano) is determined to accord her brother the true rites of burial. She attempts to enlist the support of her sister Ismene (soprano), but Ismene, fearful of the consequences, tries to discourage Antigone. Antigone ignores her and visits her brother’s corpse alone. As she scatters earth on the body she is seized by soldiers and taken prisoner by Creon. Ismene, ashamed of her former cowardice, admits complicity in the deed and is also imprisoned. Creon’s son Haemon (tenor), to whom Antigone is betrothed, goes to the king to plead for mercy, threatening to kill himself if either of the sisters is put to death. But while Creon releases Ismene he condemns Antigone to solitary confinement. The blind soothsayer Tiresias (tenor) appears and prophesies disaster for the king if he does not release Antigone and give Polyneices an honourable burial. Creon bows to this pressure but is unable to forestall a dreadful sequence of events. Antigone has already hanged herself with her sash and Haemon, clinging to her body, kills himself with his sword. When Creon’s wife Euridice [Eurydice] (contralto) hears this news, she also takes her own life. Creon is now in despair and longs for death, but is unable to effect complete absolution. The final words in the opera are reserved for the Chorus: only in wisdom can there be peace of mind and man should not profane the teachings of the gods....