Matricide is having a great time in France.
The “Elektra” by director Robert Carsen at the Bastille Opera follows hard on the heels of the acclaimed production by Patrice Chereau at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, the last he directed before his premature death on Oct. 7.
Chereau had staged Richard Strauss’s opera as a Freudian drama with a vaguely Oriental background.
Carsen and his choreographer Philippe Giraudeau almost turn it into a ballet.
Michael Levine’s set is an empty space with dark walls and a crack in the ground through which people appear and disappear. The atmosphere is created by lighting effects (Peter Van Praet).
The entire cast is dressed in black except for the murderous couple: Klytaemnestra (Waltraud Meier) in a white nightgown, Aegisth (Kim Begley) a white bathrobe.
At the beginning, Elektra (Irene Theorin) lies, sleeping or brooding. At the end, when her thirst for revenge is quenched, she adopts the same dignified pose.
The victory dance is done by Elektra’s entourage -- two dozen girls who follow her at every turn and imitate her movements. The naked body of Agamemnon, Elektra’s murdered father, pops up and is carried away by her retinue -- like the dead Siegfried in the final act of Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung.”
Later, it’s Elektra’s turn to be transported by her attendants.
Carsen loves those mirror effects. Everything he does is tasteful, elegant and picturesque. The only thing missing are the goose bumps a less stylized “Elektra” can produce.
We seem to be watching a beautiful tableau vivant.
Conductor Philippe Jordan doesn’t quite solve the problem of how to balance the sound created by 100 musicians in the pit and the limits of the human throat.
Theorin, though a compelling actress, isn’t quite up to the task. Most of what she sings is unintelligible.
Meier’s Klytaemnestra, a ravishing lady rather than the usual half-crazed hag, and Ricarda Merbeth as her second daughter Chrysothemis have the same problem: You only intermittently guess that they have lovely voices.
The only singer on whose every word you hang is Evgeny Nikitin’s sonorous Orest.
At the curtain calls on opening night, everybody involved was showered with thunderous applause and, rarity of rarities in Paris, not a single boo.
“Elektra” is in repertory at the Bastille Opera through Dec. 1. Information: http://www.operadeparis.fr/en/.
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Lance Esplund on U.S. art, Greg Evans on U.S. television, James Russell on architecture and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.
(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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