The great city of Thebes is at the mercy of a terrible plague. A crowd of Thebans process outside the royal palace where a shrine to Apollo has been erected. They sing of the rise of their great king Oedipus who solved the riddle of the sphinx and pray him to cure the plague ravaging the city. A blind prophet, Tiresias, overhears the cries of the procession and exclaims their song as monstrous. He sings of a terrible fate, of a boy born of royal blood, a son whose spilled his own blood and coupled with his mother. Oedipus and Jocasta annouce that this is the day all suffering ends. The King has sent his brother-in-law Creon to consult with Apollo’s oracle. The crowd rejoice in praise.
Creon returns with news that the oracle demands the killer of Laius, the last of king of Thebes, be revealed and banished. Oedipus calls upon Tiresias, the blind prophet, however, Tiresias is unwilling to help and Oedipus accuses him of treason. The prophet claims that Oedipus himself is the man he seeks. The Thebans, confused, call him a liar and traitor. Enraged, Oedipus orders Tiresias to death. Tiresias pleads he can only see what Apollo has shown him and that Creon’s message must be heeded. Tiresias is slain.
In the royal palace, Oedipus is shaken by the late prophet’s words. He contemplates at the possibility he could be the killer. His sings of his fate that Apollo flashed before him many years ago, how he would kill his father and rear children by his mother. He remembers the day he ran from Delphi and killed an old man. But Oedipus, paranoid, recalls that Tiresias uttered Creon’s name, he wonders if a conspiracy has been hatched to take his throne. Oedipus orders Creon arrested.
Creon’s attempt to vindicate himself are unsuccessful and Oedipus calls for Creon’s death. Jocasta tells Oedipus that prophecy is false. She tells him a story of how her first born was fortold to kill Laius and how that child was given to a shepherd to die. Her guilt has hid the secret till now. She sings of her feelings and a special connection that she can’t grasp, as though they both were meant to be together. Hearing Jocasta’s story, Oedipus becomes aware that he and his wife share dark secrets and re-affirm their passion for each other and vow to save Thebes.
Outside of the palace a messenger and shepherd arrive announcing that Oedipus’ father Polybus has died. Oedipus receives the news as bittersweet but refuses to return to Corinth in fear he may fulfill Apollo's profecy. The messenger, curious of the King's opposition reveals that Oedipus is an adopted son given to him by a shepherd. Jocasta recognizing the shepherd and realizing the prophecy had come true, begs Oedipus to send the two Corinthians away. Jocasta grabs a dagger, runs towards the Shepherd and stabs him. Jocasta exclaims she cannot bear to see Oedipus and that she gave her son to this shepherd. She takes her own life. Oedipus falls to his knees, finally connecting the profecy of both his fate and Jocasta, and embraces the body of his dead mother. He sings of how the blind may see. He removes the dagger from Jocasta’s belly and gauges his eyes with the dagger.
Awarded the 2010 Platsis Prize; University of Michigan
Opera in Two Acts
Thebans, TB Chorus
April 5, 2009
University of Hawaii,
Conducted by the composer