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BWW Review: OEDIPUS REX Online From Los Angeles Opera

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Free Online Performance by World Famous Singers

BWW Review: OEDIPUS REX Online From Los Angeles Opera On June 18, 2021, I watched Los Angeles Opera's film of Stravinsky's 1927 opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex. Jean Cocteau, who wrote the libretto, based it on the ancient Greek tragedy Sophocles wrote ca. 429 BCE. Cocteau wrote the text in French and Abbé Jean Daniélou translated it into Latin. The composer directed that the narration, however, should always be performed in the language of the audience. The work, scored for full orchestra, spoken narration, soloists, and male chorus, was set in a time of plague. It fit our current era well when it spoke of loss and futility.

Through various revelations, King Oedipus of Thebes learns he has unknowingly killed his father, Laius, and married his mother, Jocasta. Horrified by the knowledge, Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus blinds himself with the pins from her dress. The composer described his work as an "opera-oratorio" and requested that it be staged with minimal movement. Thus, the LA Opera cast sang from music stands while wearing concert garb. Manual Cinema's animation told the story visually with puppets. They portrayed the happenings in Thebes with a Day-of-the-Dead style of opulence that told much about King Oedipus, his city, and his era.

Usually, we think of large voices and larger orchestra to be the hallmarks of a Wagner performance. Here, Stravinsky uses forces similar to Wagner but in a totally different harmonic structure. LA Opera's cast of glorious large voices included tenor Russell Thomas, LA Opera's Artist in Residence, as Oedipus, mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges as Jocasta, bass John Relyea as Creon and the Messenger, bass Morris Robinson as Tiresias, and tenor Robert Stahley as the Shepherd. Narrator Stephen Fry's clear English diction and charming informal manner made sure every listener understood the Theban king's sad story.

While Thomas, Bridges, Relyea and Robinson are all well known singers with considerable experience, Robert Stahley is rather new. Therefore, it is of note that he held his place well among the veterans. Stravinsky uses solo trumpets frequently in this piece and these singers voices were easily heard through Maestro Conlon's translucent orchestral fabric. The Los Angeles Opera Orchestra is back in reasonable numbers and it is in fine shape.

Although Stravinsky's king does not know his history, Thomas portrayed him as a commanding and secure ruler until the end. Bridges was an older Jocasta who enjoyed the sensuality and companionship of the younger man. Her distinctive low notes denoted her vocal security and were a joy to hear. As Tiresias, Morris Robinson's resonant bass voice thrust its deep colors through the bright, brass-textured orchestration. His singing is a delight whenever he appears.

Grant Gershon's socially distanced men's chorus sang in tune with considerable gusto. Thanks to the efforts of Maestro Conlon, the widely spread orchestra sounded as connected as ever and as though they were in the Dorothy Chandler pit. The winds and percussion, especially the trumpets, were fabulous. Oedipus Rex is a short opera that flew by much too fast. Right now LAO is featuring it online for free. I hope that will lead to a much bigger audience for this excellent opera.

LINK: https://www.laopera.org/performances/upcoming-digital-performances/oedipus-rex-2/

Photo of J'Nai Bridges courtesy of LA Opera.


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