Geneva's bleak Elektra is shattering drama

Thu Nov 11, 2010 7:41am EST
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By Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA (Reuters) - A new production of Elektra in Geneva pares back the stage business to focus on the overwhelming music of Richard Strauss in his shattering drama of obsession and revenge.

The bleakly oppressive sets put New Orleans soprano Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet as Elektra -- one of the most demanding roles in opera -- at the center of attention.

Her powerful but richly lyrical rendition of a role she has sung in Warsaw, London and Berlin garnered repeated cheers from the first-night audience at Geneva's Grand Theater on Wednesday.

Charbonnet says she is attracted to the most challenging roles, and Elektra -- on stage for virtually the entire opera in what amounts to one long, mad scene -- is certainly one of them.

"Elektra is for me one of the most horrible and rewarding to inhabit. I have come to love her, to want to hold her and make it all better, something that cannot be done," she said in a recent blog interview with opera critic and writer William Madison.

Most opera is about sex and violence, but this one -- retaining the same power to shock as it did at its premiere in Dresden, Germany in 1909 -- is mainly about violence.

Almost the only colors in the sets and 1940s costumes were monotonous blacks, greys and whites, broken here and there by blood-stained clothes, reflecting the blood-soaked libretto of Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal in the first of his many collaborations with Strauss.

The opera, based on an ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles, describes a section of the story of the accursed House of Atreus.Klytaemnestra has murdered her husband Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, after he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to appease the goddess Artemis at the outset of the Trojan War.   Continued...