Elektra

Last fall, well into the already busy cultural season, I saw a production of Antigone at BAM. Today, as the season is winding down, I spent an afternoon immersed in another of Sophokles’ tragedies: Elektra. This version was the 1909 opera by Richard Strauss, as staged by the late Patrice Chéreau at the Metropolitan Opera. Strauss’s opera was mercifully short, and I say that not because it was bad. It is because it is both exhilarating and emotionally exhausting. I decided to see this Live in HD at the BAM Rose Cinemas, mainly because of the informative and convivial pre-performance lecture by Fred Plotkin. He shared a story about when he was a production manager at the Met back in the 1980s: six women fainted during Elektra and had to be treated by the house physician! That was all I needed to know to prepare myself for the harrowing two hours to come. As the opera opened, all we could hear was the hushed sweep, sweep, sweep of a broom. We saw a courtyard, with people milling about. Suddenly the music erupts, and it is non-stop emotion from that moment until the end. Nina Stemme was brilliant in the title role. I honestly don’t know how she had the stamina to play such a tragic figure. There was almost constant singing and no intermission. The music literally was the tragedy. I felt it practically assault my body. It was relentless. When it was over, I emerged from the movie theater into the late afternoon sunlight and felt like dancing for joy. I was glad the opera was over. I was glad I saw it. There is nothing like a Greek tragedy to shake you up and make you feel alive!

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