Soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs stars in a 2015 production of Elektra at Teatro Comunale di Bologna
“If you have done terrible things, you must endure terrible things; for thus the sacred light of injustice shines bright.” — Sophocles, Greek playwright (498-406 BCE).
Clearly, the ancient Greeks believed in revenge. Brutal revenge, to be precise. Their theatre examined the worst possibilities of human nature, reaching into the lowest depths of our psyche to purge us of immorality. The story of Elektra does this in particularly effective (and horrifying) ways.
When Richard Strauss composed his 1909 opera Elektra, based on the play Electra by Sophocles, he wanted to capture the essence of this Greek heroine’s madness — how does a woman cope with the gruesome murder of her father, that too at her own mother’s hand? When does grief turn into anger, anger into obsession, and obsession into a complete loss of control?
The resulting score is undoubtedly one of opera’s most chilling. It not only reflects Elektra’s deep psychological turmoil, but also spurs her on to commit heinous acts. The music keeps you on the edge of your seat, creating both excitement and dread simultaneously. Strauss had first explored this style of composition in Salome, which Edmonton Opera staged during the 2013/14 season, and he really perfected it with Elektra.
At the helm of Strauss’s commanding score will be British conductor Alexander Prior, who has recently been appointed the new Chief Conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Prior is fascinated with Elektra, calling it one of those “pivotal, brilliant, and most exciting masterpieces in the repertoire,” adding that it is any conductor’s dream to work on this opera.
“Elektra is a really good opera for first timers and experienced operagoers alike. It is intense, visceral, and immediate. The music is a good head banger at times, which is quite fun, and allows a very physical experience,” he says.
On the other hand, Prior suggests that Elektra can also be “an emotional experience, because it addresses the themes of longing, loneliness, and a desire to find justice when there isn’t any to be found. Like any great opera, it helps us understand ourselves a bit better.”
The role of Elektra can be hugely challenging, which explains the rarity of sopranos who can perform this complex and delicate character. One of the most prominent is dramatic soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, known for her “rapturous sound” (Miami Herald) and haunting portrayal of opera’s famous ‘madwomen’ — Salome, Lady Macbeth, and of course, Elektra.
In yet another first, Edmonton Opera presents the Alberta premiere of Strauss’s riveting and evocative Elektra, promising a live theatre experience that will immerse you in its intensity. This March, strap in for an uninterrupted 100-minute roller coaster ride through the psychological highs and lows of opera’s most dangerous woman. No one is safe once Elektra vows her revenge!