Lyric Opera’s 2012 production of Elektra, Richard Strauss’s one-act powerhouse of misery, set a high bar for follow-ups. The current revival with a new cast lost its dress rehearsal to the polar vortex and greeted its opening-night audience with an announcement that celebrated Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, making her Lyric debut in the title role, had injured her knee and would have to curtail her movement on stage.
There are plenty of operas in which a more-or-less immobile lead would be business as usual, but not this one. Not only is Elektra front and center singing her guts out for almost all of its 100 intense minutes, but, in its strikingly abrupt conclusion, she’s required to literally dance herself to death. How would this work?
Very well, as it turned out. Stemme—an accomplished actor and a true vocal athlete—is impressive in her mastery of this marathon role, her voice soaring above the equally impressive Lyric Opera orchestra, expanded beyond its usual ample size to handle Strauss’s exceptionally rich and explosive score. The story, with a poetic libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal (sung in German with English surtitles), is Greek myth as turn-of-the-20th-century matricidal psychodrama: Elektra won’t rest until the murder of her father at the hands of her mother and mom’s evil paramour is avenged. Stemme is supported by an able cast, and the entire effort is hugely enhanced by John Macfarlane’s smoking ruin of a set and party-in-hell costumes. The dancing was dispensable. Donald Runnicles conducts. v
Correction: An earlier version of this review stated that Elektra lasts 140 minutes. The performance is actually 100 minutes long.