3 1/2 stars
A stormy Nina Stemme filled the Lyric Opera House with a powerful interpretation of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra,” Feb. 6.
Known to the Met and European house for her vibrant vocals in Wagner and Strauss operas the Swedish soprano is making her Lyric debut this month as the tragic Elektra whose only motive for living is to avenge the death of her father, Agamemnon.
Stemme not only brings the expected explosive passion to the role, she also tempers the portrayal with wistfulness and contemplative anguish.
A one-act opera, there are no gaps for well-deserved applause and bravo! after each of Stemme’s arias.
The other two important female roles are Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis, sung beautifully by acclaimed South African soprano Elza Van Den Heever and their mother, Klyamnestra, expressively sung by internationally known American mezzo-soprano Michaela Matens.
The two male characters vital to the story, Elektra’s, long lost brother, Orest, and the queen’s lover, Aegisth, don’t appear until the end. Scottish bass-baritone Iain Patterson who was recently Creonte in Medea at the Berlin State Opera sounded right at home in this dark mythological tale as was American tenor Robert Brubaker, a frequent artist at the Met.
Directed by Nicolas Sandys as a revival of Director David McVicar’s production, the 2019 “Elektra” is not a stand and sing to the audience opera. Instead, it is dramatic theater that combines exceptional singing and acting with Strauss’ turbulent music played by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles.
What audiences may not recall from this tale based on Sophocles’ Electra, is that the queen was enraged by Agamemnon’s supposedly appeasing a goddess by sacrificing another daughter, Iphigenia, before he left for Troy. But no matter the motivation, Greek mythology makes potent opera.
My only problem with the production was the costumes of Klyamnestra and her court. The rubble in and around the courtyard where the action takes place and the ruinous state of the palace, itself, seem to symbolize decay. I got that. However, the queen and her court appear to be over grotesquely costumed in apparel from a 1931 “Cabaret” nightmare so they distract from the opera’s action.
DETAILS: “Elektra” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. WackerDrive, Chicago, through Feb. 22, 2019. Running time: 1 hr, 40 min. with no intermission. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.
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