Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An 'Elektra'-fying Night at the Opera

Opera Review

by Richard Strauss
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Run Ended

I don’t know enough about opera to write an intelligent review of Elektra, the one-act thriller by Richard Strauss that served as the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2012-2013 season opener.

But that’s fine, as I saw the closing performance, so while I found it to be excellent, if not quite life-changing, you won’t be able to see it—at least in the Lyric’s prodigious production, directed by Sir David McVicar—for likely another decade or closer to two (the Lyric last staged Elektra in 1992-1993).

So I won’t go into too much depth here, which is somewhat fitting as Elektra—though certainly quite substantive—would make a good starter opera, given its highly-charged, easily comprehensible storyline (about Elektra wanting to carry out vengeance for the death of her father at the hands of her mother and mom’s new lover), the powerhouse score by Strauss and 100-minute length. 

The Lyric’s mammoth stage set resembling an Eastern European palace in disrepair was certainly striking and even to an opera novice (despite my now having seen more than 40 operas), Christine Goerke’s singing was demonstrably sumptuous in the title role.  The costumes were typically splendid and while I wouldn’t really call the whole affair Tarantinoesque, as McVicar implies in an interview in the program, themes of angst, violence and revenge run through the entire performance like a locomotive.

While I very much enjoyed it, despite wishing it had started on time at 7:30pm so I didn’t have to run to catch my 9:30 Metra train, I can’t deny that it still felt like opera. By which I mean that I appreciated and admired Elektra more than I ever really “felt” it. Though I’ve intently tried to acclimate to opera—even subscribing to the Lyric for a few seasons and now typically getting to 1-2 productions per year—unlike my love for rock ’n roll and musical theater, I’ve never been able to emotionally embrace opera. Though I don't dislike anything I'm hearing or seeing, my fondness is a step detached.

So no matter how intense and provocative this production of Elektra was—sung in German with a Hugo von Hofmannsthal to accompany Strauss’ dynamic score—I don’t believe that seeing it will serve as a watershed moment in elevating my enchantment with the operatic art form.

Perhaps it would have for you, and I’d fully recommend it to opera aficionados and newbies alike, but you’ll have to try a different work or a production sometime in the future.

Elektra was electric, but in regards to this run, the fat lady has sung.

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