My Year of Opera 19: Elektra

Ugh. This one. Did not enjoy it. Learned a lot about my tastes from it, though!

Some disclaimers: I’m not a fan of late-Romanticism. I appreciate it, I understand what people like about it, I know how the music “works,” etc. But it does nothing for me. I do not listen to it for pleasure. I don’t think the music is bad; it just doesn’t appeal to me. Like bacon. Bacon appeals to a lot of The Internet and I would sound pretty silly if I sat here telling you that bacon doesn’t taste good. As a vegetarian, bacon does not appeal to me.

What I can’t quite put my finger on, though, is WHY Elektra was so unappealing. Especially because I like Wozzeck. And this was the Vienna State Opera with Abbado, the same company that did my favorite production of Wozzeck. But there is something about Strauss operas that just irritate me. Everyone talks so much about the importance of Salome; so I study Salome, I listen to it, I watch it (a few times with different productions), I read about it. I can see why it was influential but it just doesn’t sound interesting to me.

So maybe I like Berg more than Strauss because Strauss “didn’t go far enough” in terms of breaking with tonality? So I decided to try Elektra which has a reputation for Going Farther than Salome. I understand German Expressionism, I get the imagery they were interested in, I know this is the stuff that launched the Second Viennese School (whose music I like). Elektra seemed to embody every possible stereotype that makes opera seem silly. This stage is DARK. As in, you can hardly see the people on the stage. The music is full of anxious activity but without focus. It reminded me of being in a car with someone who fills nervous energy by talking all the time.

So no, this was not something I enjoyed. I get why Strauss wrote it, I get why composers would be into it, I get why orchestras would be excited to play it, but I don’t get why singers would want to sing it. I’m really glad I’m doing this My Year of Opera. Not only am I learning a lot about the rep I’m seeing trends in my own tastes. Clearly I need to spend some more time with German opera to see if I can engage with it.

I’m planning a few “gimmick” months this summer. Instead of just randomly grabbing operas and seeing what happens, I’m coordinating a few themes. I think June with be “Shakespeare Month” where I watch 4 different Shakespeare operas (Ad├Ęs’ The Tempest, Verdi’s MacBeth, maybe I Capuleti e I Montecchi, and Kiss Me Kate). I might do a Wagner month, too. I’m also curious about the same stories done by multiple composers. Romeo and Juliet, sure. Maybe Faust? I could probably pull together a Faust month…

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One Comment

  1. John
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    If you do Faust, be sure to do Boito’s Mefistofele, San Francisco Opera’s version. Talk about an opulent production!

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