Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 58th season Opening Night Gala promised to be musically and dramatically exciting, and classically elegant. The evening fulfilled this promise and more. Walking on the red carpet to the entrance of the opera house, was exciting as I observed opera lovers arriving in gorgeous gowns and tuxes. The high energy of people anticipating this season opener was palpable.
Once inside, the décor in Rice Grand Foyer hinted at what was to come. A bright red light was the first thing I saw and then noticed the centerpiece off center and on it's side, depicting a world askew. Warning: there would be blood. This did not dissuade guests from enjoying the delectable hors d’oeuvre catered by Jewell Events Catering in the opulent Rice Grand Foyer and throughout the lobbies before and after the performance and while Champaigne flowed. Although guests were everywhere, it seemed that everyone was able to fill their plates and glasses. Looking around, I enjoyed the smiles, happy chatter, and the gorgeous gowns. Time passed quickly and soon we were taking our seats. This was the 28th year that Aon Corporation, Gregory C. Case, President and CEO sponsored this special event.
As conductor Sir Andrew Davis’s baton came down Elektra began immediately, no overture. I sat riveted during the uninterrupted 100 minutes of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra. When it ended, the I joined the audience bursting from their seats to a thunderous standing ovation, well deserved.
This new Sir David McVicar production features the Lyric debut of internationally celebrated soprano Christine Goerke in the eponymous role, along with Emily Magee, Jill Grove, Alan Held, and Roger Honeywell. Elekra is an opera in one act, performed at Lyric in German with projected English titles. The Hugo von Hofmannsthal libretto is based on the Elektra tragedy by Sophocles. Elektra, the opera, by Richard Strauss, was first performed at the Sachsische Staatsoper, Dresden, January 25th, 1909 and first performed by Lyric Opera of Chicago October 10, 1975.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s webpage (lyricopera.com) is a wonderful way to learn about upcoming operas. From a conversation between Anthony Freud, General Director, Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director and Renee Fleming, Creative Consultant, I learned that Elektra requires the largest orchestra in any opera, no opera is more powerful, and the set suggests decay. They also speculated that Elektra was so very intense that it almost “scared” its creators and they moved to lighter creations with Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, and more.
There is also an article on the website in which Magda Krance clarifies many aspects of Elektra and also brings the opera to life. In part she says, “The lead-up to Elektra reveals a family tree plagued by moral rot. The Trojan War began after Agamemnon’s sister-in-law Helen eloped with Paris, prince of Troy; Agamemnon (king of Mycenae, commander of the Greek forces) set off to reclaim her, sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia to ensure favorable winds for the journey. His traumatized wife Clytemnestra sought comfort in the arms of Agamemnon’s nephew Aegisthus (himself a child of incest). When Agamemnon returned, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdered him and usurped his throne – damaging her daughters irrevocably in the process. (Young Orestes was sent to safety by Elektra.)”
As the opera opens we learn that Elektra is crazed, behaves like an animal, and is treated like one, consumed as she is with revenge. Both Elektra (Christine Goerke) and Chrysothemis (Emily Magee) her sister expect Orest (Alan Held) their brother to avenge their father’s murder by killing Klytemnestra (Jill Grove) their mother and Aegisth (Roger Honeywell) their stepfather. Believing that Orest is dead, Elektra is ready to take on this task and asks her sister’s help in slaying the dishonorable pair. When Chrysothemis refuses to help saying that she wants a normal life with children, Elektra is ready to do this deed alone, but just in time she learns that Orest is alive is in the castle with his tutor (Jason Stearns) and is ready and willing to avenge his father’s murder.
The story is so compelling that it is an attention getter even without fantastic music, singing, costuming and staging. But this production has it all. Christine Goerke “was” Elektra, deranged, angry, hurt, and isolated. The acting did not let up and her voice blending with the orchestra was magic, powerful and beautiful. All of the voices were powerful and perfect with the music.
The sets and costuming by John Macfarlane and lighting by Jennifer Tipton under director Sir David McVicar created a world not quite real and not quite fantasy but definitely askew. The John Macfarlane costumes were inspired by North African tribal traditions and he also drew from powerful images of ancient and more recent ruins. The results are compelling and powerful.
Because of the length (short) and intensity of this opera, which is unique, many have suggested that it is very appropriate as an introduction to opera for new viewers. Regardless of whether you are an opera lover or new to opera this is an absolute must see. And do enjoy the 25-minute free lecture one hour before curtain time.
For the 28th consecutive year, Lyric’s Opening Night Benefit is sponsored by Aon Corporation. Generous sponsors for this new production of Elektra are The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, the Abbott Fund, Marlys A. Beider, and Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. The evening’s festivities are planned by the Women’s Board of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes (Anne), president. Mrs. Lester B. Knight III (Rebecca) is Opening Night chairman.
Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 N. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
Call: 312.332.2244 or visit lyricopera.org
Pre-opera photos: Leon Keer
Opera photos: Dan Rest (DR), Robert Kusel (RK)