Monday, August 2, 2010

Salzburg 2010: Elektra approaching fast...

The main event of this year's Salzburg Festival is supposed to be the new production of Elektra,  directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff and with our fave Daniele Gatti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.  I guess I'm not too much enthused as the show will take place at the Grosses Festspielhaus, which will certainly dilute the impact of the music. To that add Lehnhoff, who's not exactly what I like the most in opera, although I appreciated his Lohengrin, Parsifal, Tannhauser, and even Tristan. All of these productions were important as they went a step beyond the conventional reading but the substance was somehow missing... Also important is the fact that Lehnhoff is appreciated by traditionalists so his productions prepared them to stomach more creative works such as those by Herheim, Warlikowski, Bieito, Kusej, and even those by Guth, or Carsen...

Theorin and Westbroek as Elektra and Chrysothemis [photo ©Baus]

The cast is the most appealing element of this Elektra: Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra), Iréne Theorin (Elektra),  Eva-Maria Westbroek (Chrysothemis), Robert Gambill (Aegisth), René Pape (Orest). 

Good news is that there will be a radio broadcast of the show scheduled for August 21 at 19:30 (cet) on this link.
Ed:  I don't know whether or not Norma with Joyce DiDonato as Adalgisa will be broadcast from Salzburg. If I find out anything in Salzburg I'll post it here.

I realize many people around me often misunderstand the directors' intentions in various productions of Elektra, and it's usually because they are not familiar with the background story of Electra and her fatherS. I hope you won't find this post too patronizing (please don't!), but rather helpful (?) 

Elektra comes from the family cursed by the Olympus' Gods, and there cannot be greater tragedy than this one. 

Her grand-grand father Pelops married Hippodamia after cheating her father in a chariot race [in which Hippodamia's father died.] The couple had two sons, Atreus and Thyestes, who hate each other in a way which is beyond imaginable: Arteus kills Thyestes' children and serves them to him for diner; Thyestes instead believed a fake fortune-teller and rapes his own daughter hoping she would give him a son who'd kill his brother Arteus. That son is Aegisthus.  

Arteus instead has two sons, Menelaus and Agamemnon
When visiting Lacadaemon (Sparta), Agamemnon falls in love with one of the King's daughters, Clytemnestra, who at that time was married and had a son. Agamemnon kills both her husband and her son, rapes Clytemnestra in their blood and takes her to Mycenae where he will have 4 children with her: Iphigenia, Chrysothemis, Electra, and Orestes

Menelaus instead is in love with Helena, a Zeus' daughter adopted by the King of Lacadaemon, who's admired by all of the Greek heroes. As the richest among candidates Menelaus wins the hand of Helena. BUT Helena is promised to Paris, Prince of Troy, by the goddess Aphrodite, who wanted to reward Paris for his choosing her as the most beautiful among goddesses. Paris goes to Lacadaemon, abducts Helena and takes her to Troy. The war against Troy is inevitable and Agamemnon will lead the army. 

To make things less simple, Agamemnon makes a mistake by killing a holy doe which will enrage Poseidon who stopped the winds and so the Agamemnon's fleet cannot advance. To please Poseidon, Agamemnon takes her daughter Iphigenia to Aulis where he'll kill her as a sacrifice to Poseidon. The war for Try then starts and will stretch over 10 years during which Clytemnestra's hatred towards her husband grows and she gets a lover -- guess who?! -- no other but Aegisthus.  

Electra is horrified by her mother's infidelity -- she admires her father whom, in fact, she doesn't know-- and begins to hate her mother. To spare her little brother Orestes of shame brought to her family [by her mother's infidelity], she takes him to the relatives.  After 10 years of war Agamemnon returns to Mycenae, and brings Cassandra --his Trojan woman-- with him. He uses Cassandra to parade in Mycenae and to constantly spite his wife Clytemnestra.  

In response  Clytemnestra --helped by Aegisthus-- kills Agamemnon in the bath, with Electra watching the murder scene. That was a defining moment when Electra's life becomes completely focused onto hatred of her own mother. She then goes to fetch Orestes and together with the priests from Delphi prepares him for what should be the task of his life: to kill his mother and thus avenge his father. 

Now, here is what Nikolaus Lehnhoff had to say about his production: 
Electra is obsessed with the idea of avenging her father’s murder. Agamemnon is the center and demon of her idée fixe. Electra lives exclusively in the past; as a figure, she is only existent in combination with this idea. Through this absolute fixation upon the idea, the person becomes a marionette – a cruel act of self-abandonment and loss of identity.
The opera takes place in a space occupied primarily by Electra, a command center of her obsession. She has almost walled herself up in the fortress of her thoughts, a shell that is a refuge and a trap at the same time. The piece is about the visualization of inner states, about existential emergencies and forced situations.
In the end, what remains is self-deception and self-destruction, culminating in a dance of death. The drama ends with the same basic problems as it began. Only the roles have been changed. There is no way out of the cycle of crime. The curse remains. The Erinyes are just outside the door.

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