photos courtesy of Ken Howard and Philip Groshong

ELEKTRA by Richard Strauss
Sebastian Weigle/Steven Mercurio
Cast: Goerke/Polaski, Grove/Silja, Check/Nielsen, Gazheli/Hale, Margison/Garrison
Production: D. Lyne (scenery & clothes), T.C. Hase (lighting), J. Geier (hair/make-up)

Relying on the orchestra to provide crashing, expressionist angst and sudden spasms of beauty, Strauss turns the opera into a gripping, psychological thriller. Director Nicholas Muni, who first conceived this production for Cincinnati Opera, played down histrionics in favor of efficient, clear-eyed storytelling. Dany Lyne’s abstract set design, with a single monolithic castle at its center, becomes the setting for imaginative and creatively lit pantomime sequences showing murders past and present. One striking touch was having Elektra, the mastermind, violently swinging the ax that killed her father as we see her brother doing away with their mother upstairs in the castle. Another smart move that helped set the proper tone was having Elektra’s family tree literally spelled out on the curtain for the audience to ponder before the downbeat – a myriad of intrafamily murders, rapes, infanticide, sacrifices and seductions.
– Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press
(October, 2014)

Director Nicholas Muni invests this production not just with horror, but with a tense, menacing fear. The restless spirit of Agamemnon is almost like another character, and Muni doesn’t lose sight of that. Muni was also responsible for the lighting, which was effective. Dany Lyne’s sets were appropriately spartan, with the strewn boulders on the stage evidently representing the crumbling House of Atreus. This admirable production says much about how MOT has grown and matured…
– George Bulanda, The Detroit News (October, 2014)

“Elektra is directed by Nicholas Muni, based on a production he originally conceived for the Cincinnati Opera. He also designed the lights – wonderfully atmospheric, to enhance the creepiness of the production, it is very effective. Sets and costumes, designed by Dany Lyne, are suitably somber and reserved, reflecting German, rather than Grecian, inspiration. The fortress-like building that dominates center stage becomes part of the drama, alternately revealing and concealing the horrors inside.
– John Quinn, Between The Lines
(October, 2014)

“The health warning for Nicholas Muni’s new production of ELEKTRA came in the form of a diagram scrawled on the curtain showing just how many of this family had raped, sacrificed or eaten their nearest and dearest. Behind it the setting was ominous—the characters clambering over a jungle of slates and rocks. All was dominated by the huge slab of a tower, its inhabitants’ silhouettes clearly visible. The build-up to the murder was brilliantly handled—Orest and his accomplice were searched at the entrance to the tower and given the all-clear, before each slowly drew up a flick knife hidden on a string behind their necks, the blades glinting as they climbed the stairs to the door. The audience response was hugely enthusiastic…Cincinnati Opera is thriving on its ambition.”
Erica Jeal, London OPERA (October, 2002)

“Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and Strauss’ Elektra may have little in common musically, theatrically or historically but all four are essentially tales of revenge and redemption. To draw such intelligent abstract parallels across an entire season is a mark of real programming confidence and artistic maturity, and hints at an exciting future for one of America’s oldest, fastest growing but relatively low-profile opera companies. Cincinnati’s 2002 season benefited from strong productions and marvelous performances, particularly in Elektra. Director Nic Muni’s vision of the opera attempts to encapsulate the “complex simplicity” of the story and his staging is straightforward and uncluttered. It’s the marriage of psychology and scenography that makes Muni’s production successful. His royal palace is a granite monolith, punctured by small windows that shed light only to illuminate the ensuing carnage. The landscape surrounding the fortress is as craggy and fractured as Elektra’s mental state and musical lines. Reflecting the chasm that opens in Elektra’s mind, the floor imperceptibly opens over the course of the production to reveal a blood-red shadow of the palace, littered with detritus: the body of Agamemnon, the net with which he was trapped, the axe used to kill him and, eventually, the body of Klytämnestra.”
Paul Cutts, Opera Now (December, 2002)

“The pièce de résistance was Elektra. The production, staged by Nicholas Muni and designed by Dany Lyne, was stark and expressionistic, with the palace of Agamemnon looming like a ghostly mausoleum (one that occasionally dripped copious amounts of blood from four scary-looking “drainpipes”). Muni provocatively explored the complexity of human motives in perceptive flashbacks of the child Elektra and her abusive mother, and in a sneakily chilling moment when the reclining Klytämnestra poured out her heart while Elektra sat in a chair, looking like a smug New York City psychologist who had heard the same story of fear and sleeplessness one too many times. And in an eerily effective reference to 9/11, Orest was brusquely frisked by guards before entering the palace yet somehow managed to smuggle a knife in under his clothing.”
Rebecca Paller, Opera News (November 2002)

“While Dead Man Walking was thought provoking, Elektra was extraordinary musically and theatrically—providing one of those rare unforgettable nights in an opera house. Boasting a superb cast of well-matched pros, stage-directed by Nicholas Muni, Elektra recreated Sophocle’s out-of-control world in which casual beatings and murders occurred hourly. The production opened with palace maids, some carrying spears, milling about under the castle walls, their dresses covered in blood—expressionist, post-romantic Valkyries peopling a world without heroes. With such a brilliant production, especially paired with Dead Man Walking, the Cincinnati Opera demonstrated that perhaps no challenge is too great. The city has clearly embraced Muni and his vision.”
Barbara Zuck, Columbus Dispatch (July, 2002)

“For anyone who believes that, whenever possible, music should be a soul-wrenching, cathartic experience, Cincinnati Opera’s presentation of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and Richard Strauss’ Elektra in a single weekend offered unusual opportunities. Elektra is, of course, no stranger to the repertoire, though one doesn’t encounter it frequently in regional houses. Until this year, Cincinnati Opera had never performed Strauss’ most extravagantly scored stage work, so there was plenty of anticipation for the production directed by company artistic director Nicholas Muni. He and his colleagues did not disappoint…this Elektra blazed and stunned.
Andrew Adler, Louisville Courier-Journal (July, 2002)

“Cincinnati Opera rose above regional to world class this week at Music Hall. Everything came together in Elektra. Directed by Nicholas Muni, the cast boasted the best voices anywhere. The production was imaginative and compelling. The palace, a gray hulk updated to Germany’s Ruhr Valley, is effectively an abattoir with blood streaming from vents at the bottom. Maids in boots and aprons attend to the drainage. Thomas Hase’s high contrast lighting mirrored Elektra’s emotional state, from gray-toned despair to blood-drenched euphoria.”
Mary Ellyn Hutton, Cincinnati Post (July, 2002)

“It took 93 years to get here, but Cincinnati Opera’s production of the Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hoffmansthal tragedy, Elektra, was a triumph in every way. At the conclusion of nearly two harrowing hours, the crowd rose with a shout to hail Ms. Polaski, whose thrilling performance will be remembered as one of the most significant ever to grace Music Hall’s stage, and to cheer the production conceived and directed by Nicholas Muni. His direction was seamless, with many provocative touches.”
Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer (July, 2002)

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