Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Christine Goerke [Photo by Christian Steiner courtesy of IMG Artists]
27 Oct 2012

A New Production of Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

The opening images of Richard Strauss’s Elektra in its new production at Lyric Opera of Chicago establish a tension persisting until the final chords of the score indeed signal a resolution of this familial tragedy.

A New Production of Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Christine Goerke [Photo by Christian Steiner courtesy of IMG Artists]

 

Christine Goerke, in her debut with this company, delivered a relentless yet at the same time lyrical performance, one in which Elektra’s early delusions are transformed by the character’s determination to see her plan for revenge ultimately realized. Her sister Chrysothemis is sung by soprano Emily Magee, their mother Klytmämnestra by mezzo-soprano Jill Grove, Orest by bass-baritone Alan Held, and Aegisth by tenor Roger Honeywell. Sir Andrew Davis conducts these performances which open Lyric Opera’s fifty-eighth season.

At the sound of the distinctive opening chords the stage depicts a servants’ courtyard at center with, at left, a stairwell leading up to a stone edifice tilted menacingly. The doorway at the top of the stairwell emits a reddish glow. During the opening dialogue of the maids Elektra is visible from time to time caught up in gestures of emotional distress coupled with sounds akin to laughter. In her defense of Elektra’s nobility of spirit the fifth maid, sung and declaimed here with admirable attention to diction by Tracy Cantin, communicates further the tension that accompanies Elektra’s dilemma. Once the maids have retreated indoors Elektra occupies the stage alone and delivers her opening monologue. From the start Ms. Goerke uses her dramatic and vocal powers to portray a character obsessed with the dimensions of past injustice and future vengeance. Goerke’s calls to her father Agamemnon, coupled with a narration of his slaughter, are delivered with an impressive and secure range. In her erratic memory this Elektra intones the dramatic low pitches of “Sie schlugen dich im Bade tot” [“They murdered you in the bath”] in flashes with tender appeals phrased piano for Agamemnon in spirit again to reveal himself [“Zeig dich deinem Kind” (“Appear before your child”)]. As the orchestra swells gradually toward the close of Elektra’s extended monologue Goerke’s voice rises in believable excitement at the thought of a triumphal dance. In her plan for sibling cooperation she envisions the “Purpurgezelte” [“pavilions of purple”] that will be erected upon the successful revenge taken for Agamemnon’s death. Here Goerke’s forte notes matched the orchestral power and were integrated into a seamless portrayal of distress and vision. The final appeal to “Agamemnon,” just as at the start of the scene, suggests here through audible symmetry a barely contained simmer of emotional fury which is still to be unleashed.

Grove_2_(Credit_Dario_Acosta).pngJill Grove [Photo by Dario Acosta courtesy of IMG Artists]

At the entrance of Chrysothemis in the following scene Goerke injects a palpable scorn into her greeting, “Was willst du, Tochter meiner Mutter?” [“What do you seek, daughter of my mother?”]. In their interaction and frenzied discussion of Klytmämnestra’s plan to imprison Elektra, Ms. Magee creates an emotionally complex figure. Her Chrysothemis attempts to warn Elektra yet also unleashes lyrical pleas to be allowed to live as a woman and to ignore the past. Once her feelings become charged to the point of declaring, “Viel lieber tot als leben und nicht leben,” [“So much better to be dead rather than to live and not live”], Magee’s yearning vocal line rises exquisitely in contrast to Elektra’s present starkness.

In the following scene Chrysothemis runs off to allow the inevitable confrontation between Klytmämnestra and Elektra. Jill Grove shows herself to be an equal partner in this vocal and dramatic confrontation, as her Klytmämnestra derides the “paralysis” [“gelähmt sein”] of her own strength when confronted by her daughter. In her address to Elektra the rising notes on “Habt ihr gehört? Habt ihr verstanden?” [“Did you hear? Did you understand?”] flow into a solid and chilling contralto pitch on “Ich will nicht mehr hören” [“I do not wish to hear any more”], both establishing the dread that she herself feels and can likewise inspire in others. The revelation that a sacrifice must be made to halt Klytmämnestra’s nightmares leads to Elektra’s triumphant announcement that the Queen herself must die as this “Opfer.” Grove uses appropriately melodramatic gestures to register the Queen’s horror until a servant provides her with the information that her feared son Orest has died before returning to the court. As she regains her composure Grove’s Klytmämnestra retreats with her retinue while delivering exultant cries of relief.

When Chrysothemis announces this very information to Elektra in their following exchange Goerke’s repetition of “Es ist nicht wahr” [“It is not true”] communicates her frustration in acidic tones. Elektra reveals to Chrysothemis that she has hidden the axe used in Agamemnon’s murder and the sisters must now wield it in lieu of Orest. The accompanying duet between Goerke and Magee stands out as a lyrical showpiece of this production as their voices blend and move apart in rhythmic succession. At the ultimate refusal of Chrysothemis to participate in the vengeance and her flight into the house, Elektra is left in grim resolve to dig for the buried axe herself.

As Elektra continues to search for the hidden weapon, a shadow appears on the back and side walls of the stage. The stranger [“Was willst du, fremder Mensch?” (“What do you seek, stranger?”)] identifies himself as a former companion of Orest who has come to deliver personally the news of his death to the Queen. In the scene of recognition Orest is able first to appreciate the identity of his sister through conversation despite her degraded state. Mr. Held portrays the stranger convincingly with questioning tones of respect, until the moment of recognition when his resonant voice blooms into the role of the heroic brother with a determined mission. In like manner, Goerke’s dramatic cry of recognition at the identification of her brother is softened as she sings piano with distended notes of relief and love. Despite their ecstatic reunion they are reminded of the task as Orest enters the palace. Only Elektra’s despair at having forgotten to provide Orest with the axe breaks the awful tension sustained in the orchestral accompaniment. The screams of Klytmämnestra are followed soon by the arrival in the courtyard of a drunken Aegisth. Elektra assures him passage into the house and to the same fate as that met by her mother. At the appearance of Chrysothemis in the courtyard and her joyous declaration of “Gut sind die Götter” [“The gods are benevolent”], Elektra begins her dance of celebration predicted earlier in her dramatic monologue. The continued emotional strain has, however, snapped and Elektra falls down lifeless to the horror of her sister. The final cries by Chrysothemis of “Orest!” bring about the crashing chords of resolution. The production of Elektra by Lyric Opera of Chicago with its superb cast as well as musical leadership by Sir Andrew Davis will remain as a testament to the innovation and greatness of Strauss’s music.

Salvatore Calomino

Click here for cast and production information.

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):