‘Elektra’ opening night shows range of voices

  • By Mike Murray Special to The Herald
  • Wednesday, October 22, 2008 2:35pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

SEATTLE — Seattle Opera’s “Elektra” comes at you like a runaway train with the throttle fully open. There’s no getting off, but it’s an exhilarating ride.

The Richard Strauss opera is beautiful and terrifying, with bloody strokes of violence and heartbreaking humanity, a score of immense complexity that’s frenetic and harsh, lyrical and even sweet. And it’s performed in one long act without intermission.

Seattle Opera, which opened the opera last Saturday, has a cast up to the vocal challenges of “Elektra,” which requires nonstop, full-out singing with voices of power, beauty and plenty of stamina. The crisp, taut staging by house favorite Chris Alexander, and the skilled conducting of Lawrence Renes, in his company debut, are at the service of the lush music and the bloody drama. “Elektra” offers generous servings of both.

Strauss (with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal) based the opera on the Greek myth of Elektra. The daughter of the murdered King Agamemnon, Elektra’s consuming need to revenge his murder drives her to madness and death. Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War to find that his wife, Klytamnestra, has been having an affair. The wife and her lover, Aegisth, murder Agamemnon, an act that pushes Elektra over the edge into madness. Unhinged, she vows to kill her mother in revenge.

Her brother Orest, thought to be dead, is reunited with his sister and does the deed, hacking the mother and the lover to death. Elektra, released from her cycle of hate and revenge, dances to her death in demented frenzy.

Soprano Janice Baird, in her company debut, gave a spectacular vocal performance on opening night (she alternates in the role with Jayne Casselman). She sang throughout the range with beauty and rich tones of many shadings in nearly two hours of singing. She sounded as good at the end as she did at the beginning, with power for the dramatic fireworks and hushed beauty in the opera’s most lyrical moment, the scene in which she recognizes her brother, Orest. Her physical beauty and strength are major assets.

German soprano Irmgard Vilsmaier gave a touching performance as Chrysothemis, the fragile sister who, unlike Elektra, is able to put the horror of their shared family life behind. She wants a normal life, with a husband and children. Elektra won’t have it. Their father’s murder will be avenged.

After you have met the mother you can begin to see Elektra’s point. Klytamnestra is a dragon lady of terrifying prospect, bejeweled in gold, hunched and wielding her cane like a weapon. Her menace is chilling and so is her pitiful vulnerability.

Mezzo soprano Rosalind Plowright was a wonder in her scene-stealing portrait of Klytamnestra. Her grand entrance is a spectacle that rivals Cecile B. DeMile for gaudy grandeur as the queen and her garish retinue (brilliantly costumed by Melanie Taylor Burgess) flood Wolfram Skalicki’s charcoal set in a burst of color and chaos.

Klytamnestra removes her gilded, towering headdress and reveals a frail, spidery woman in torment, pleading with Elektra to tell her what she must do to make the gods release her from her nightmares.

Blood must be shed, Elektra says, but the sacrificial blood must be Klytamnestra’s.

Bass-baritone Alfred Walker made an impressive company debut as Orest, singing with warmth and power. Richard Margison, one of the opera world’s most reliable tenors, was impressive as Aegisth and the rest of the cast was up to the standard.

Elektra, with her brother’s hand, has her revenge. The blood flows amid shrieks of murder and the maelstrom of orchestral sound, and Elektra dances to her death.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Inside Elle Marie Hair Studio in Smokey Point. (Provided by Acacia Delzer)
The best hair salon in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied. Here are the results.

For more than a thousand years, Czech leaders – from kings and emperors to Nazis, communists, and presidents – have ruled from Prague Castle, regally perched on a hill above the Vltava River. Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli
Rick Steves’ Europe: History lives in Prague and its hilltop castle

It’s one of Europe’s best-preserved cities, having been spared from last century’s bombs.

Alarm clock in the middle of the night insomnia or dreaming
Trouble sleeping? Try these tips for getting a good night’s rest

Many adults turn to sleep aids, including alcohol, to help them rest, without realizing that their hectic lifestyles may be contributing to their sleeplessness.

The Stumbling Fiddler Band is scheduled to perform March 3 in Everett. (Photo provided by Port Gardner Bay Music Society)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Get ready for St. Patrick’s Day with music by the Stumbling Fiddler Band in Everett.

I was charged an extra $250 for a mistaken car rental upgrade

When Leah Page picks up her rental car from Thrifty, it charges her a $250 upgrade fee. Can it do this without her permission, and how can she get a refund?

Naomi Jacobson as Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer in "Becoming Dr. Ruth" at Village Theatre in Everett. (Auston James)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

“Becoming Dr. Ruth,” which tells the sex therapist’s amazing back story, is now showing at Village Theatre in Everett.

Over 200 years, the magic lantern transformed into an educational peacock

Regarded as magic in the 1650s, this device was refined into the more scientific sounding sciopticon by the mid-1800s.

Market for sale plants. Many plants in pots
Snohomish Garden Club plans annual plant sale

The event is scheduled for April 27 at Swan’s Trail Farms. Proceeds will go to scholarships.

Start planting now so you can stop to smell your own roses all summer long

Late winter to early spring is perfect for planting roses. And with so many varieties to consider, there’s no time to waste.

The 2024 Mazda3 hatchback. (Mazda)
2024 Mazda3 adds a Carbon Turbo trim and more safety features

The charismatic compact is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback.

Cousins Penny Leslie and Sidney Baker work together on a mural inside a jail cell at the Mukilteo Police Department on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
No more staring at blank canvas in Mukilteo police holding cells

Bright murals now adorn the walls. The artwork is intended to calm and relax detainees.

A heart shaped hand tossed pepperoni pizza, left, and eight-corner Detroit style veggie pizza, right, from Jet’s Pizza on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, at the Everett Herald newsroom in Everett. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Detroit-original Jet’s Pizza lands in WA with thick-crust pies and more

The national chain’s Lynnwood joint is the first in the state. The pizza is tasty — hot or cold. And it makes good date food.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.