James Conlon
LA Opera Music Director James Conlon | Credit: Dan Steinberg

Buoyed by a $5 million donation, Los Angeles Opera is planning its return to live, in-person performances with a major outdoor production this summer.

The gift by philanthropists Terri and Jerry Kohl will, among other things, fund the company’s first-ever production of Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, to be conducted by Music Director James Conlon and directed by Matthew Diamond.

If public-health guidelines permit, the opera will be staged early this summer at an outside location to be announced. Together with the return of concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and the announcement of a dance series on the Music Center Plaza, the news indicates that — absent a spike in COVID-19 infections — arts-starved Southern Californians will soon be able to experience live productions again.

In addition to the $5 million, the Kohls have also pledged an additional, undisclosed amount in the form of a challenge grant. That money will go into the company’s endowment and will be used to support the LA Opera Orchestra, which is made up of 62 core musicians who are supplemented by additional players as needed.

The Kohls, founders and owners of the accessories manufacturer and retailer Brighton Collectibles, are longtime major donors to many Southern California classical music organizations. “We’re stepping up because we passionately care,” Jerry Kohl said.

With its doors closed since last March, LA Opera has only been able to offer “some limited employment and other forms of financial support to players during the shutdown,” the company noted in its announcement.

“Our stage has been regretfully dark for a year,” said President and CEO Christopher Koelsch. “This gift will help to ensure that we are able to return to pre-COVID-19 levels of employment and artistic strength as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Stravinsky’s 1928 work, an example of the composer’s neoclassical music, seems a good fit with pandemic-era safety guidelines. It’s short and intense, clocking in at a little under an hour, which means no intermission.

Moreover, as the company noted in its announcement, its “thematic resonance” should be particularly strong at this point in our history. Based on the ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles, Oedipus Rex concerns a plague-scourged society and its headstrong, deeply flawed leader who stumbles into tragedy after disregarding repeated warnings.

The company plans to open its 2021–2022 season at its regular indoor home, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Sept. 18 with Verdi’s Il trovatore.

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