Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Commentary

Soprano Eleanor Dennis performs Beethoven and Schubert at the 2019 Highgate International Chamber Music Festival

When soprano Eleanor Dennis was asked - by Ashok Klouda, one of the founders and co-directors of the Highgate International Chamber Music Festival - to perform some of Beethoven’s Scottish Songs Op.108 at this year’s Festival, as she leafed through the score to make her selection the first thing that struck her was the beauty of the poetry.

Mark Padmore reflects on Britten's Death in Venice

“At the start, one knows ‘bits’ of it,” says tenor Mark Padmore, somewhat wryly, when I meet him at the Stage Door of the Royal Opera House where the tenor has just begun rehearsals for David McVicar’s new production of Death in Venice, which in November will return Britten’s opera to the ROH stage for the first time since 1992.

Annilese Miskimmon appointed as English National Opera’s Artistic Director

English National Opera has appointed Annilese Miskimmon as Artistic Director.

An interview with Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Oxford Lieder Festival's first Associate Composer

“Trust me, I’m telling you stories …”

GSMD and ROH announce Oliver Leith as new Doctoral Composer-in-Residence 2019-2022

Guildhall School of Music & Drama in association with The Royal Opera today announces Oliver Leith as the fourth Doctoral Composer-in-Residence, starting in September 2019. Launched in 2013, the collaboration between Guildhall School and The Royal Opera is one...

In conversation with Nina Brazier

When British opera director Nina Brazier tries to telephone me from Frankfurt, where she is in the middle of rehearsals for a revival of Florentine Klepper’s 2015 production of Martinů’s Julietta, she finds herself - to my embarrassment - ‘blocked’ by my telephone preference settings. The technical hitch is soon solved; but doors, in the UK and Europe, are certainly very much wide open for Nina, who has been described by The Observer as ‘one of Britain’s leading young directors of opera’.

2019 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera International Song Competition

Russian bass-baritone Mikhail Timoshenko has won the top prize at the 2019 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera International Song Competition.

An Englishman in Vienna: Stephen Storace

When his first opera, Gli sposi malcontenti, premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1st June 1985, the 23-year-old Stephen Storace must have been confident that his future fame and fortune were assured.

Stendhal on the Rossini Revolution

Some Details concerning the Revolution inaugurated by Rossini

Louise Jeffreys to become Deputy Chair of ENO

English National Opera (ENO) is pleased to announce that Louise Jeffreys is to become Deputy Chair of English National Opera and the London Coliseum. She replaces Nicholas Allan. Louise is currently Artistic Director of the Barbican where she leads...

Verdi Treasures from Milan’s Ricordi Archive make US debut

Rare testimonies to the history of Italian opera from the Milan-based, Bertelsmann-owned Ricordi Archive will now be shown in the United States for the first time. Fans of classical music and literature can look forward to the exhibition “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff - Highlights from the Ricordi Archive”, which will be on view at the renowned Morgan Library & Museum in New York from September 6, 2019 to January 5, 2020.

Odyssey Opera Resurrects Henry VIII

BOSTON, MA (For Release 07.18.19) — One of the nation’s most adventurous opera companies, Odyssey Opera, begins its seventh season with a concert performance of Henry VIII (1883) by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns based on El cisma en Inglaterra (The schism in England) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

Glyndebourne Announces the Return of the Glyndebourne Opera Cup in 2020

Glyndebourne’s major new international singing competition returns in 2020 with a renewed commitment to supporting diversity in opera. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup - the international competition for opera singers is designed to discover and spotlight the best young singers around the world, offering a top prize of £15,000 and a guaranteed role at a leading international opera house. The final will once again be broadcast live on Sky Arts on 7 March 2020 and the series is produced by Factory Films.

Garsington Opera: Five Young Singers Win Prestigious Awards

Winners of this year’s prestigious Leonard Ingrams Foundation awards are mezzo-soprano Bianca Andrew and tenor Oliver Johnston. These awards support, encourage and nurture the best young artists involved in the creative process of bringing opera to the stage, and are made in memory of Garsington Opera’s founder Leonard Ingrams, to ensure the continuity of his vision.

Bill Bankes-Jones on the twelfth Tête à Tête Opera Festival

“We need to stop talking about ‘diversity’ and think instead about ‘inclusivity’,” says Bill Bankes-Jones, when we meet to talk about the forthcoming twelfth Tête à Tête Opera Festival which runs from 24th July to 10th August.

The Italian Opera Connection at ‘The English Versailles’: The Duchess of Buccleuch and the Georgian Stage at Boughton House

As part of its annual programme of events, Boughton House in Northamptonshire hosts ‘A Passion for Opera’, a rare exhibition portraying the musical life of Lady Elizabeth Montagu (1743–1827) and the world of Georgian operatic culture.

An interview with composer Dani Howard

The young Hong Kong-born British composer Dani Howard is having quite a busy year.

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycle

Lyric Opera of Chicago has announced both schedules and cast-lists for is Spring 2020 performances of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Given the series of individual productions already staged by the company since Fall 2016, that pave the way for the complete cycle, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s complete production should affirm the artistic might of the great composer.

Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

London Bel Canto Festival 2019: an interview with Ken Querns-Langley

“Physiognomy, psychology and technique.” These are the three things that determine the way a singer’s sound is produced, so Ken Querns-Langley explains when we meet in the genteel surroundings of the National Liberal Club, where the training programmes, open masterclasses and performances which will form part the third London Bel Canto Festival will be held from 5th-24th August.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Charles Edwards
04 Nov 2008

Elektra at Royal Opera House

“Opera directing is very different to theatre directing”, says Charles Edwards, director of Elektra at the Royal Opera House this season. “It has to be the music that motivates you”. For this production, he works with Mark Elder, “an extraordinarily theatrically-minded conductor who sees theatre in everything he hears”.

Elektra at Royal Opera House — An interview with Charles Edwards

Above: Charles Edwards

 

Elektra is a kind of Holy Stück”, he adds. Sir Thomas Beecham conducted it at the Royal Opera House in 1910, a year after it was written, so it carries a venerable performance tradition. But every production is different. “It’s an opera with a fantastic inner logic to it, like Wozzeck, in terms of orchestral and psychological insight…. a kind of psychogram, drawing a picture of what’s happening in the minds of the characters. Citing the sequence where Klytemnestra recounts her traumatic dream, Edwards notes how close Strauss comes to atonality. The music wavers between tones because Klytemnestra can’t find her place emotionally. Strauss was writing well before Schoenberg, and conceptually this is very advanced. It’s as if the composer was on a “cliff edge, looking over into an abyss and pulling back.” Although there are elements of later Strauss in this music, the composer is on dangerous new ground.

Elektra also stands on the precipice in historic terms. This was the Vienna of Freud and artistic innovation. “Hofmannsthal’s libretto isn’t Wagnerian, it’s highly colloquial language, it was daring, yet he didn’t undertake lightly the task of reinterpreting the ancient tragedy in modern, psychological terms”. This was a pivot point in European history, nations tottering on the edge of the First World War, and the end of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian empires. Hence costumes which evoke Kaiser and Tsar, and sets which juxtapose ancient Greek ruins and early Bauhaus architecture. “The whole weight of history is pressing down”. It’s significant that the production was first conceived on the brink of the invasion of Iraq. If anything, the last five years have sharpened the focus. “We cannot ignore the past”. Klytemnestra wants to forget Agamemnon’s murder, but the truth catches up on her. The characters are locked in a cycle of retribution and violence. “Revenge, revenge, revenge” says Edwards, “it’s been going on since the beginning of mankind”.

“Ich trage die Last des Glückes”, Elektra carries the burden of the past, until she herself dies. Her final dance is not a dance of triumph – she doesn’t die in other versions of the legend, but in Hofmannsthal’s version, she is killed, just like those who killed her father, because she wanted vengeance too much. “That’s what that final C Major chord means”, says Edwards. As Mark Elder pointed out, it comes suddenly, in contrast to the minor keys that lead up to this point. “Strauss is turning a blinding light upon us” says Edwards, “This is not celebration, it’s interrogation : Is this what we really want ?” Elektra has been rehearsing her victory for a long time, but when it becomes reality, it finishes her off.

In this production, Edwards wants the music to come through clearly. “This won’t be a total Schlacht of sound, a generalised bloodbath of noise where you can’t really hear the words. The louder the orchestra, the more the singers have to force their voices and that lessens what they can really do”. Of course Elektra can be loud, but this can obscure the deeper levels of meaning. No diva “bathing in vast amounts of decibels”, then ? “Mark Elder knew absolutely that he wanted to avoid the caricature of Elektra as a mad harpie. A lot of her music is soft, amazingly tender. The dynamic between Elektra and Chrysothemis is fundamental. Elektra, for all her righteousness, is deeply damaged : everything that weiblich, human and fertile about her, she’s had to repress, yet she doesn’t hold it against her sister who stands for all she can never have”.

That’s why Edwards is so thrilled about Susan Bullock who will be this Elektra. “She understood, instinctively, she has an astonishing theatrical imagination. She is the greatest English singing actress in this role in the world”. Many who have heard Bullock will agree. Although she has created the part more than 50 times, she comes to the production with an open mind, eager to develop. Her experience counts. “Because of the physical requirements of opera, singers, like dancers, absolutely have to get the character ‘into their bodies’ and grow with it flexibly”.

Bullock’s approach to Elektra determines this characterization of Chrysothermis. “Nagellack”, a conductor once told Edwards, was the essence of the part, as if she had to be some hardened Jean Harlow vamp. “I don’t think Chrysothemis ever puts nail polish on” he says, however. She’s the one who believes in babies and intimacy. “She’s as strong as Elektra but more rational. Elektra has this hallucinogenic monologue where she’s fantasizing about revenge, and Chrysothemis comes in quietly and warns her that the immediate problem pressing on her is that their mother wants to lock her up. Anne Schwanewilms will be singing the role.

Chrysothemis is pure, but Elektra has been corrupted, along the way, and not simply by her father’s death. Has Aegisth abused her ? His hold over Klytemnestra is sexual, but this production shows that her body has collapsed, while he is still “this priapic power-crazed individual who satisfies himself wherever he can”. That’s why the maids are pregnant ! Aegisth doesn’t think beyond the moment any more than Klytemnestra can think of the past. There’s an unhealthy power struggle between Aegisth and Elektra. “We’re playing this as a kind of sex game, as she can be quite dominating as she has some kind of power over him. Maybe she can tell her mother he’s fiddling with her ? there’s mileage in that. There’s no way out for Elektra, no sexual release or outflow. It comes from a poisoned place because she’s had to stifle all the natural warmth and sexual maturity she should have been able to grow into.” We can imagine Freudian things now that Hofmannsthal would not have dared express a hundred years ago. Here, even Orestes isn’t “some proto Wotan hero, but traumatised”.

“If only I could erase the word ‘revival’ from the operatic lexicon !” says Edwards. “The word Weideraufnahme, a “new take”, is more appropriate. Five years have passed, and if anything, the interpretation takes on extra significance now that all that’s safe and certain seems to be crumbling around us. Edwards credits his cast, who have melded well. The family in the plot may be dysfunctional, but the singers work together like a community. “It’s much more ensemble. Everyone’s on stage at the end, the whole piece is cyclical. Toscaninni said there is no such thing as small parts, only small artists and there are no small artists in this production. Everyone is going on a journey, all their roles figure”.

This Elektra is on at the Royal Opera House, London on November 8th, 12th, 15th, 18th, 21st, 24th. Click here for details.

Charles Edwards has extensive directing and design experience throughout Europe. In the United States he has designed productions for Dallas, Houston and Chicago.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):