Make do. Be brief. Keep your distance. With Igor Stravinsky’s Œdipus Rex, first performed in Paris in 1927, observing these emergency commandments for performances over the last year is easier than with Aida, say, or La Bohème, or Carmen. Set to Jean Cocteau’s adaptation of the Sophocles tragedy, Stravinsky’s “opera-oratorio” runs a tight, contact-free 50 minutes. Even so, it took crackerjack craftsmanship to assemble the Los Angeles Opera’s new streaming version, which alternates film clips from separate recording sessions for the multi-tracked orchestra, soloists, and chorus with “through-composed” shadow puppetry by the Emmy-winning boutique production company Manual Cinema.
As in Sophocles, the key incidents of the tragedy take place either in the past or offstage. But this time, the hero’s whole history passes in pictures before our eyes. We see him abandoned as an infant. We see him kill his father and marry his mother, just as the oracle foretold. And in the now, we witness the horrors the oracle failed to foretell: the queen’s suicide by hanging, the king’s piercing of his own eyes with the dead woman’s hairpins. Who could look away?