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Winning the prize for first post-pandemic indoor stage performance, L.A. Opera will present composer Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex for a single matinee June 6 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The inimitable Stephen Fry — prerecorded at London’s Abbey Road studios — will appear onscreen as the narrator of the production.
Based on a 1927 libretto written by Jean Cocteau and later translated by E.E. cummings, the 50-minute opera-oratorio recounts Oedipus’ inquiry into the murder of King Laius. Oedipus, the King of Thebes, discovers that Laius, whom he secretly killed, was actually his father and that he has slept with his mother, Queen Jocasta, who, upon learning the truth, kills herself.
“It’s all deeply unfair, and very unfair of Freud,” Fry says of the hapless king and the psychological complex named for him. “The one person who didn’t have an Oedipus complex was Oedipus. He went as far away as he could to avoid it! And as soon as he discovered he had done it, he stabbed himself in the eyes!”
L.A. Opera artist-in-residence tenor Russell Thomas will sing the lead, with 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 in a production featuring projected animation by Emmy-winning performance collective Manual Cinema, whose shadow-puppet work will be featured in Universal’s upcoming film Candyman.
For the performance, the company has set up strict public-health protocols. Audience members must prove they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 at least two weeks before the performance or show proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours of curtain. Those who are vaccinated will be seated in the orchestra section, while those with negative test results will be socially distanced in the Founders Circle. All are required to wear masks throughout. A video presentation of the opera directed by Oscar nominee Matthew Diamond (Dancemaker) will stream for free on L.A. Opera’s digital platform beginning June 17.
Recently, Fry finished shooting Neil Gaiman’s eagerly anticipated Netflix series The Sandman, in which he plays an Edwardian-writer type named Gilbert. It’s a character in keeping with the witty, aristocratic persona often associated with Fry. In the past few years, he has been immersed in the classics, writing a trilogy of books, Mythos, Heroes and Troy — all modern retellings of Greek myths — as well as creating a one-man show, first presented at the Shaw Festival in Ontario in 2018. Performances in the U.K. in 2019 were to precede an Australia tour that was put on hold by the pandemic.
Fry recalls a photo he recently came across of himself with quite a cast of characters who, at the time, were unknown. A Cambridge alum of late-’70s vintage, he performed at college with his longtime friend and later comedy partner Hugh Laurie, as well as Emma Thompson. One day the three were preparing a sketch for the Amateur Dramatic Club Theatre and needed a fourth for the cast. “Hugh said, ‘I’ve seen this girl, she’s very good, she’s called Tilda Swinton.’
“So, Tilda and Emma and Hugh and me — I was looking at a picture the other day, a grubby old black-and-white snapshot someone took of that sketch, and I was thinking, ‘There are quite a lot of Oscars and Golden Globes,’ ” he says with a laugh. “You don’t think that at the time. You just hope that you’re not going to get sneered at by your fellow students.”
This story first appeared in the June 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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