Elektra is Galvanic

Murder and Revenge without Intermission at the MET

By: - Apr 23, 2016

"Elektra" at the Metrpolitan Opera was performed as one, continuous orgy of arias  during a 110-minute performance in which the main character (sung by the amazing Nina Stemme) never left the stage.

This is the Richard Strauss interpretation of Sophocles’ timeless tale of family dysfunction, murder and revenge. As the opera begins, we meet Elektra and her sister, Chrysothemis (Adrianne Pieczonka), who are essentially prisoners in the stark Hellenic palace of their mother, Queen Klytamnestra. Their brother, Orest, has been banished. Elektra, mad with grief at the murder of her beloved father Agamemnon, has sworn death to his killers – her own mother and her mother’s lover, Aegisth. Chrysothemis is less vengeful and deranged, but miserable and desperate to escape and live her life. Their despair only intensifies when two strangers arrive at the palace to announce that their only hope for revenge and escape, their brother Orest, is dead.

This is an opera of one dramatic moment after another two were so intensely moving that they brought one to tears:

  • Early in the opera, Elektra and Klytamnestra (Waltraud Meier), are on stage alone. The Queen is distraught over her daughter’s condition and despair. There is still a vestige of motherly love but her ego and instinct for self-preservation prevail. Elektra both longs for and despises her mother. Her pain comes not just from grief at her father’s death, but at the realization that she cannot love his murderer, even if she is a once-beloved mother. The conflict is tangible and moving.

  • The second moment is when Elektra slowly realizes that one of the “strangers” is actually her beloved and longed for brother Orest (Eric Owens), who is alive after all. Often this scene is played with a grand, dramatic “reveal” and moment of recognition. Not so in this more subtle and realistic version. Elektra has been hopeless and full of hate for so long, that she almost cannot allow herself to now believe that her obsession with revenge may actually become a reality. Her acknowledgement of Orest is at first slow and tentative, and then, finally, desperate. It is a scene that is painful and beautiful to watch.

Everything about the MET’s "Elektra" was extraordinary. The stark staging by Patrice Chereaux enthralled as did the supporting performances by Burkhard Ulrich as the Klytamestra’s lover as well as a host of servants who take sides in support of either Elektra or the Queen. Perhaps the only disappointment was at the very end. The ultimate tragedy of Elektra isthat even when her goal is achieved and both her mother and Aegisth are dead, Elektra’s obsession with revenge has driven her mad. In a traditional performance, she becomes a whirling dervish, literally dancing herself to death in an ecstasy of passionate joy. Stemme’s few jerks and twists on stage seemed anti-climactic after all that previously  had gone on before. Perhaps, after 110 minutes on stage she was truly exhausted.

"Elektra" was only at the MET for a few weeks and played to sold-out audiences.  This unique opera is sure to return in future seasons.