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Friday, April 1, 2016

Metroprolitarian Opera Preview: Elektra: Lieb ist Blindheit

Richard Strauss' tragedy Elektra gets a comic-book facelift.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Elektra (left) battles the villainous Stierauge in the climax of
Richard Strauss' opera, now reimagined at the Metropolitan Opera as Elektra: Lieb ist Blindheit.
Art by Frank Miller from Daredevil No. 181, © 1981 Marvel Comics
This morning, the Metroprolitarian Opera announced that the company will present a radical new vision for Richard Strauss' classic opera Elektra, opening April 14. This new production will take the place of the company's planned staging, which was designed by Patrice Chéreau. The announcement broke this morning, April 1st.


Retitled Elektra: Lieb ist Blindheit, this version moves the action of the Richard Strauss tragedy to a gritty street scene in front of the Atreus Coffee Shop in Astoria. "Elektra is still the last daughter of the House of Atreus," press representative Simon Mundstück explained in an in-house conference call overheard by Superconductor. "But now she's a ninja with ninja powers, out for revenge!" The staging will use the flying rigs left over from the Julie Taymor Broadway production Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. enabling the singers to soar right over the audience suspended from the chandelier.

"Let's face it. Greek or Roman or whatever--Gladiator is out and comic books are in," Mr. Mundstück burbled. "And nobody wants all that moldy old falafel about killing your mother to make your dead father happy, or whatever. We're giving the audience a package of martial arts, music, and more martial arts. And the best part is, it's still a tragedy!"

Star soprano Nona Schtumm will be alternating rehearsals and sitzproben with rigorous wire-work and martial arts training at the Met's in-house dojo, located next to the opera house's cafeteria. She is currently learning kung fu for the opera's climactic ballet sequence, where the diva will battle a chorus of ninjas from the Japanese assassin's guild known as Der Hand. This scene, which will feature real martial-arts combat in the vast space of the opera house, was inserted at the insistence of Metroprolitarian general manager Peter Glib.

"If my time at Phony Classical taught me anything," the GM said, "it's that kids love ballet, especially when it's done in the air. Look at all the success we had with the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon! Huge success, that. So why can't we update Elektra to bring in some of the Times Square crowd?"

The opera company expects Ms. Schtumm to earn six belts in the next two weeks. "She's coming along," Mr. Glib said. "I happen to know she can break a board with a high C."

Fans of German opera might point out that Strauss' one-act opera does not incorporate a ballet. To compensate, five minutes of music from that composer's lone ballet Schlagobers has been inserted, replacing the key scene where Elektra confronts her mother Klytamnestra. Here, Klytaemnestra is still the villain but the character has been renamed "Der Achsschenkelbolzen" and is now a trouser role for veteran mezzo Maltraud Weier.

The character of Aegisth has been rewritten extensively: now he is renamed "Stierauge" and he has the task of killing Elektra before the curtain drops. Tenor Lars Hummentaschen has been working out in Germany with illusionist and coach Ricky Jay, trying to embed thrown playing cards at various targets. "It's a frustrating process," he admitted as he threw an ace of spades at a watermelon. "But this is why I got into opera!"

The character of Orest has been re-imagined too by stage director Franco Müller. He's now Der Wagenteufel, a blind seer who takes it upon himself to fight crime on his return to the House of Atreus. Bass-baritone Owen Ericcson has had to rehearse all his parts wearing a sleep mask, which has necessitated considerable feats of memorization from the veteran singer.

Conductor Pikka-Pekka Peippernen, who led the premiere of the original staging, had his doubts about this new, revamped Elektra. But the company's desire to mix the world of comic books and opera (an ambition that was attempted in 2014 with the launch of the failed pastiche Die Fledermausmensch) is just too strong for the mild-mannered Finn to argue with.

"What the hell," he said, settling down with his marked-up copy of the score. "It will be over in 90 minutes anyway."
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.