Quickly turn the pages of the ELEKTRA program book and you come to a full-page advertisement that avers “Opera is Flourishing!” A linger in the Lyric Opera House lobby before the opening said the same thing. Here was a crowd—especially when compared to other opening nights—with many younger and hipper seeming people both in dating couples and in small groups-- all races and sporting wardrobes in many styles. Yes, the diehards of decades opera fans were there too—but this lobby mezcla was a better Chicago cross-section than is typical. BRAVO! Lyric—BRAVO!
Perhaps it’s because ELEKTRA was staged not so long ago or perhaps some other reason. ELEKTRA’s 110-minute length, akin to the average feature film, lives in that same guilty pleasure sweet spot that horror movies apparently do for many cinephiles. Spoiler Alert: Those who have taken the Lyric’s backstage tour and learned a bit about the fake blood industry will be amazed when the steps start oozing blood.
The disaster-wracked ruins set we read in the program was inspired by bombed out buildings in Serbo-Croatian wars. This writer, though, thinks post-earthquake is a more apt descriptive. All the action happens in the setting of dirty squalor and as the pre-concert lecturer emphasized, not many in this story seem to have known the pleasures of bathing.
The title character Elektra (Nina Stemme) has a particular aversion to bathing, as her father had been murdered in his bathtub. That her mother (Michaela Martens as Klytämnestra) and her lover (Robert Brubaker as Aegisth) did that deed is the source of all the demons Elektra can’t stop singing about. The whip-wielding slave masters in her midst are the least of it. She can’t wait for revenge and – spoiler alert: she seems to die in happiness when she gets it.
The singing performances—all—struck this writer as nuclear powered and showing great stamina, especially by Stemme. Martens also is riveting. You too may be wondering if it is that Elza Van Den Heever’s voice is especially sweet or if Strauss gave her part of Elektra’s sister Chrysothemis easier to latch on to arias.
Lovers of bel canto melodies need to put that passion aside. This score by Strauss is famous for breaking new ground in dissonance and musical modernism—with its famed Elektra Chord.
For this writer, Macfarlane's costume for Michaela Martens is in itself worth the price of admission.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Singing Cast (in order of singing):
LAUREN DECKER, MARY PHILLIPS, KRYSTY SWANN, ALEXANDRA LoBIANCO, ANN TOOMEY, SUSAN FOSTER, NINA STEMME, ELZA VAN DEN HEEVER, MICHAELA MARTENS, WHITNEY MORRISON, EMILY POGORELC, ERIC FERRING, KENNETH NICHOLS, IAIN PATERSON, PHILIP HORST, ROBERT BRUBAKER
TYLER GABRIELLE BROWN, KATHERINE COYL, MARK LANCASTER, JOSHUA MOANEY, MAGGIE CLENNON REBERG, DANIELLA RUKIN, MICHAEL SAUBERT, JR., CHELSEA SHEPHARD, PHILIP SOULIDES, CLAUDIA URBANO, KAREN ANNE YATES
Music: RICHARD STRAUSS
Libretto: Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Conductor: DONALD RUNNICLES
Original Director: SIR DAVID McVICAR, Revivial Director NICK SANDYS**
Set and Costumes: JOHN MACFARLANE
Lighting: JENNIFER TIPTON
Chorus Master: MICHAEL BLACK
Wigs and Makeup: SARAH HATTEN
Thru February 22
Lyric Opera House
20 North Wacker