Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Lutton’
Opera in One Act by Richard Strauss
Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, after Sophocles
Performance on Saturday, 11th February 2012 at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth Western Australia.
A co-production of West Australian Opera, ThinIce, Perth International Arts Festival and Opera Australia.
Conductor Richard Mills
Director Matthew Lutton
Set and Costume Designer Zoe Atkinson
Lighting Designer Paul Jackson
Repetiteur Andrea Katz
Elektra Eva Johansson
Chrysothemis Orla Boylan
Klytamnestra Elizabeth Campbell
Orest Daniel Sumegi
Aegisth Richard Greager
Orest’s Tutor Jame’s Clayton
Confidante Sarah-Janet Brittenden
Trainbearer Lucy Mervik
Young Servant Samuel Sakkar
Old Servant Ryan Sharp
Overseer Merlyn Quaiffe
First Maid Bernadette Lucarnus
Second Maid Donna Friedl
Third Maid Fiona Campbell
Fourth Maid Harriett O’Shannessy
Fifth Maid Jennifer Barrington
Agamemnon James Berlyn
Sacrificial Victim Shirley van Sanden
With the West Australian Opera Chorus and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.
To say this opera production was a most anticipated event would be an understatement. In this part of the world any new production of ELEKTRA is a RARE event. This was a red carpet event for both the West Australian Opera and the Perth International Arts Festival, and a red carpet was indeed laid out on the footpath outside the theatre. The anticipation and excitement was partially satisfied by this production. Performed in the beautiful, Edwardian His Majesty’s Theatre (built in 1904 during the Western Australian gold rush). Performances of this bloody tale of obsession and matricide is the last thing you would expect in this enchanting theatre. But see it we did.
Hofmannsthal based the libretto on Sophocles Greek tragedy of the ancient King of Mycenae and protagonist in the Troy war, Agamemnon. Before the action commences, Agamemnon’s brother, Aegisth, has brutally stabbed him to death in his bath, his wife Klytamnestra has hacked his dead body to pieces with an axe, his wife and brother are now joined and Aegisth is the new King. His son Orest, the rightful heir to the thrown has been banished, leaving his sisters Elektra and Chrysothemis alone at the palace. Elektra is obsessed with revenging her father’s death and tries to enlist her weak and vacillating sister in aiding her in killing Aegisth and her mother Klytemnestra. The palace and Klytemnestra are diseased. Klytemnestra thinks a sacrifice to the Gods will cure all ills but cannot decide on an appropriate animal to sacrifice. Elektra taunts her hinting to her that her death is near. Orest, presumed to be dead, returns to the palace and reveals himself to Elektra, who wasted and dishevelled is unrecognisable. Little discussion is needed. Orest ascends the stairs to the palace and kills his mother Klytemnestra amidst a cacophony of screams. Aegisth enters and is ushered up into the palace where he meets a similar fate. Elektra’s revenge is now complete, her purpose in life has now ended. Elektra, in an ecstatic dance of triumph, falls dead in front of her horror-stricken attendants.
The opera, designed by Australian Zoe Atkinson was set in a grimy cell with a narrow and claustrophobic stairway climbing upstairs at the back left hand side of the stage and some low windows on the side walls. Costumes were modern a la Target, with Elektra dressed in an ill-fitting skirt and hoody (hasn’t she been dressed like this before in another production ?). Chrysothemis was also dressed in a budget dress and slip and Orest also entered wearing a hoody (Target must have had a sale). The only glamour, if that is required for this gruesome tale of matricide and murder, was the glamorous, satin-like, cream pant-suit worn by a bald Klytemnestra (presumably her pyjamas), with gaudy drop diamond ear rings trailing almost to her neck and the biggest cluster of diamond rings I have ever seen. Aegisth sauntered onto the stage wearing camel coloured slacks, a mustard, fine woollen pullover, sunnies and a shock of white hair beautifully brushed back, causing some mirth in the audience.
The production was in the hands of the young and impressive Australian director, Matthew Lutton. This was only his second opera production – the other was Miroslav Srnka’s chamber opera MAKE NO NOISE staged in the Pavillion 21 Mini Opera Space of the Bavarian State Opera. Lutton’s production was very faithful to the opera, and even many of Strauss and Hofmannsthals’ stage directions, but he added his own modern twist to the production with his much publicised concept bringing a startling visual intensity to the music, by allowing the audience to enter into the world of Elektra’s dreams and desires. The opera is essentially ‘seen’ through Elektra’s eyes, thus enhancing the psychological drama of the work. At the rise of the curtain, the maids equipped with a mop and dish rags are poised on the lip of the stage to the left as directed by Strauss, but wait, at the back of the stage facing the wall is an intruder, virtually naked with jaundiced skin. The cue for Lutton’s concept is taken from Elektra’s opening monologue, ‘Allein ! Weh, Ganz allein’, the mysterious figure slowly turns around when she sings ‘so you return, with slow relentless step, unlooked for, stand you there, with vengeful eyes’. When Elektra, after a few more phrases sings ‘Let me behold you, leave me not this day alone ! But as your want is, like a shadow, from the wall’s recesses come to greet your child ! Father ! Agamemnon ! Your day approaches’. With this, the figure slowly tears of his jaundiced skin revealing a body as black as night, and as requested he does not leave her this day – chilling stuff ! At times during the course of the opera the spirit of Agamemnon would slowly and deliberately make his way to Elektra or Klytemnestra to place his arms around them in an embrace, but never touching them.
Little was made of the opening Maids scene until the arrival of the Overseer, played by Merlyn Quaife, who provided the mostly inexperienced Maids (2 were making their premier major opera debut) with a stunning example of vocal acting and German pronunciation. The confrontation between Elektra and her sister Chrysothemis, (the butt of all her pent up anger) was very physical with Elektra pushing her around in her rage. The entrance of Klytemnestra was accompanied by her confidante and another young woman additional to the usual performers. After her contemplation of the necessity of a sacrifice to appease the Gods and heal her ailing body (and that of the palace), she turns to the seated girl and proceeds to scalp her with a knife, leaving a large, bloody head wound, then proceeds to wear the scalp as a wig. A missed opportunity was the confrontation scene between Elektra and her mother with both on opposite sides of the stage, Elektra sitting astride a reversed chair and little interaction between them. Before Klytemnestra’s murder, the spirit of Agamemnon slowly turns and outstretches his arm to indicate the axe leaning against the back wall. Elektra spends some time in stripping it of a rubber coating in preparation for the avenging murders. With the murder of her mother, accompanied by a cacophony of high pitched and long screams, Elektra drops the forgotten axe to the floor with a loud bang and a cloud of dust rises from the stage where it lands. Aegisth entrance as previously mentioned provoked fleeting mirth from the audience which broke the dramatic tension, but perhaps this was Lutton’s intention with this pathetic and risible character. With the final scene a dance of death for Elektra was replaced by the spirit of Agamemnon slowly moving to centre stage, to have blood as black as Indian ink slowly trickle over him while water oozed down the walls of the set. When the centre of the stage was filled with a large black pool, Agamemnon slowly descended and dissolved into the pool during the final bars of music, finally avenged and at peace, as Elektra intended.
Vocally the major principals were all phenomenal. West Australian Opera was both very wise and lucky to obtain the services of such an excellent exponent of Elektra in Eva Johansson. Vocally she remains in her prime with a voluminous and thrilling sound, some exquisite piano singing that had the audience holding it’s collective breath, and a crazed interpretation of the role. No less thrilling was the performance of Irish singer, Orla Boylan, making her role debut as Chrysothemis. The voice is large, well controlled and with a beautiful tone – another Elektra possibly in the making. Ms Boylan succinctly portrayed all the frailty of this character, and obtained much pathos while revealing to a disgusted Elektra her desire to leave the palace, lead a normal life, and eventually have children. The Klytemnestra of Elizabeth Campbell was also superbly sung by this experienced singer. She was suitably pathetic, cold and self-obscessed – just keep her away from the knives. Daniel Sumegi was vividly strong as Orest, and vocally secure with a highly resonant and ringing account of the role. His tone was smooth as silk without a hint of roughness. John Greager made the most of his smaller but critical role of Aegisth. Proving he should never consider retirement, he almost stopped the show with his entrance and stage presence, and his voice remains secure for these big and important character roles. The smaller roles sung by a largely inexperienced team were well sung, but one wonders whether a more experienced team would have aided this production a lot more.
The West Australian Symphony Orchestra was slightly expanded to 84 musicians for the production and was packed into a large pit, most of which projected far underneath the stage. The Strauss reduction of the score, reducing the orchestral numbers from the original 120 was used (Strauss knew the value of having his works widely performed and happily wrote the orchestral reduction himself for smaller theatres). The full complement of 24 violins separated into three groups was maintained, two thirds of the required violas for the full orchestration were present – again divided into three groups. The strings were completed with 10 cellos and 8 double basses. The original quota of 8 horns was reduced to 5 and the optional second harp was not used. Apart from some minor incoordination of the strings early in the piece, and a similar episode of incoordination of the brass in the final scenes – both in extremely complex sections of the score, the orchestral playing was exceptional. Unfortunately, the climaxes of the score remained muted due to a combination of burying the orchestra under the stage, the inevitable use of the reduced orchestration in this small theatre, and the conducting. This problem was evident from the opening, with the initial playing of the Agamemnon chord by the full orchestra, which failed to produce the desired hair raising effect.
Conducted by Richard Mills, this Elektra was drawn out from the usual playing time of around 90 minutes to 110 minutes, hampering the dramatic flow of the work, failing to produce the rapid outbursts of orchestral sound following quieter sections of singing, and lacking the marvellous ebb and flow of rhythm characteristic of Strauss works. I suspect the slower times placed an additional strain on the principal singers. At times, this work which is usually a battle of big and thrilling sounds between singers and orchestra, sounded more like a chamber opera.
This adventurous staging by the West Australian Opera with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was quite expertly presented despite some flaws. The well dressed audience was quite generous with it’s applause, yet never produced an ecstatic response or a chorus of bravos.
Despite a well thought out production with some exceptional scenes, this Elektra in the final analysis failed to provide that feeling of revulsion, the hackles standing on the back of the neck, gooseflesh and a pounding heart rate, which any great performance of ELEKTRA should.
Preparations are well underway for the opening of the Western Australian premiere of Richard Strauss’ blood-fest opera ELEKTRA in under 4 weeks.
Elektra is the most gripping one hundred minutes in opera.
Elektra gives us one of Western civilisation’s greatest stories of fanatical love and revenge. A tour de force that drives performers and orchestra to their limit. It was the first collaboration between Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, one of the most important composer-librettist partnerships in operatic history. It remains a unique work as powerful today as in its first performance in Dresden in 1909.
Director Matthew Lutton’s new production plans to bring startling visual intensity to the music, allowing the audience to enter into the world of Elektra’s dreams and desires. She has seen her father murdered, the city around her is cursed, and she longs for justice. Matthew Lutton, designer Zoe Atkinson and members of the creative team discuss their vision of the work in the video below.
The ELEKTRA cast includes International and Australian stars Eva Johansson, Orla Boylan, Daniel Sumegi, Elizabeth Campbell and Richard Greager. Richard Mills will conduct the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra in his last outing before the RING in Melbourne in November of 2013.
The production is a co-production of the West Australian Opera, ThinIce, Perth International Arts Festival and Opera Australia. A future east coast presentation by Opera Australia is planned.
Performances are at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth on February 8th, 11th and 14th.
If you don’t live in Perth – beg, borrow or steal a jet ticket. Just don’t miss it !!
Eva Johansson is to sing the title role in the 2012 production of Richard Strauss ELEKTRA for the Perth International Arts Festival in a Thin Ice/West Australian Opera/Opera Australia co-production.
Eva Johansson is a Danish dramatic soprano. She studied with the Copenhagen Opera Academy . She debuted with the Danish Royal Theatre in 1982 as the Countess in Mozart’s LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. She then went on to sing ELEKTRA, SALOME and Donna Anna in DON GIOVANNI. In 1988 she was invited to sing at the Deutsche Oper Berlin by Götz Friedrich, and has has had a long association with them ever since.
She has sung at the Bayreuth Festival playing Elsa in LOHENGRIN, Freia in DAS RHEINGOLD and Sieglinde in DIE WALKURE.
Her debut with the Metropolitan Opera came in 1998 when she played Eva in DIE MEISTERSINGER von NURNBERG.
As a dramatic soprano, Eva Johansson has concentrated on the operas of Wagner and Strauss - notably playing Senta in THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Elisabeth in TANNHAUSER, Isolde in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Brünhilde in both DIE WALKURE and GOTTERDAMMERUNG, the Empress in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN and the title roles of ELEKTRA, SALOME and ARIADNE AUF NAXOS.
She has sung in Israel, Spain, France, Austria, England, and Japan, with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim, Christian Thielemann, Valery Gergiyev, Simon Rattle and Christoph von Dohnanyi.
In 2001 she was honoured with the title of Berlin Kammersängerin. She is featured on the DVD of the Opernhaus Zurich production of ELEKTRA, conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi.
The cast for ELEKTRA is as follows:
Director Matthew Lutton
Conductor Richard Mills
Elektra Eva Johansson
Chrysothemis Orla Boylan
Klytaemnestra Elizabeth Campbell
Orest Daniel Sumegi
Aegisth Richard Greager