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A Triumphant Return to Stage

Posted on: May 17, 2021

Producing an opera during a historic pandemic is certainly a complex endeavor. And when it’s an opera that takes place during another pandemic, it’s also a particularly meaningful one.

The idea for LA Opera to present for the first time Igor Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex (which is based on Sophocles' tragedy of the same name and takes place as Thebes is suffering a plague) emerged almost six months ago. As the public health situation and other variables continued to shift, our team embraced the spirit of innovation and perseverance that has made so much creative output possible during the closure. We are ecstatic the result is that we are offering both live and streamed presentations of Oedipus next month.

Original plans included a live outdoor presentation this spring at a historic Los Angeles location. But then the coronavirus winter wave gripped the region, and the venue became unavailable. So we pivoted to a pre-recorded production that will be streamed on the On Now digital platform.

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Chorus Director Grant Gershon leading the LA Opera Chorus in a recording of "Oedipus Rex."

On April 14th, 404 days after our orchestra had last played in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, almost 80 musicians rehearsed Oedipus onstage under the baton of Maestro James Conlon. Over the next two days came four orchestral recording sessions, and the following week sixteen of our choristers rehearsed and recorded the Oedipus chorus, led by Chorus Master Grant Gershon.

"Being back at work at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and hearing the chorus and orchestra for the first time in over a year was a magical and emotional experience," said Stage Manager Barbara Donner. "The best part, however, was seeing all of my opera family again and feeling hopeful about our return in the fall."

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Left to right: Production staff Barbara Donner, Michelle Blair, Erik Friedman and Whitney McAnally.

The Production and Artistic departments established thorough Covid safety protocols for the project, in consultation with LA County and the company's Covid compliance consultant, G8Check. Those protocols will remain in place when the company records again on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage early next month, this time with five singers—Artist in Residence Russell Thomas, J'Nai Bridges, Morris Robinson, John Relyea and Robert Stahley—singing the Oedipus soloist parts.

Then the soloist, orchestral, and choral recordings will be edited together with animation by Manual Cinema (commissioned specifically for the project).

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Head of Video Kelly Travis monitors various camera angles as the LA Opera Orchestra prepares to record "Oedipus Rex" on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage.

And while the streaming production will premiere online June 17th free of charge, the original goal to welcome an in-person audience for Oedipus will also come to fruition after all. As the public health situation dramatically improved and the county released new guidance permitting some indoor performances, a public performance of Oedipus will take place on stage Sunday, June 6. The aim is to have the soloists, chorus and orchestra performing together live. The size of the audience is dependent upon evolving public health guidance but likely will be at least several hundred.

Oedipus, in both its streaming and live forms, is made possible by dozens of staff members and many more union-represented employees and artists. Because of their work, opera is coming back to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage, a homecoming for which we cannot wait.