The first thing I knew about Elektra was that there were a whopping eight clarinets in the orchestra. At uni we named our 8-piece clarinet ensemble Elektrasize.
The next time I came across the opera was at National Music Camp in 2000 when I learned that although the opera was the first of many collaborations between composer Richard Strauss and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, it was the last the composer wrote in such extremely chromatic language. He was about to execute a huge musical U-turn and backtrack away from modernism.
At National Music Camp I attended a performance of Elektra at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney, conducted by Simone Young, and learned the consequences of speaking my mind. I thought the tenor was weak and wobbly as Aegisthus. I was shouted down by the local Sydneysiders who took offence at the criticism levelled at a singer who was currently reigning favourite in Sydney. I was from Perth and had no idea about the hierarchies involved. I was horrified at my ‘misjudgement’ until our tutor suggested that perhaps Hoffmann’s voice was in fact past its prime, and it required the ears of an outsider to notice.
This week a new production of Elektra has opened in Perth – WA Opera’s first performance of a Strauss opera. Admittedly they have trimmed the orchestra back a bit to fit in the pit – there aren’t eight clarinets after all – but at least it is getting an airing. The co-production with ThinIce features hot young director Matt Lutton and a sensational cast of singers. The ancient Greek story is proving a winner: all three performances at His Maj are SOLD OUT.
I can’t wait to hear Eva Johansson as Elektra. Watch this space for my review of Saturday’s performance…