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BWW Review: MN OPERA'S Scintillating ELEKTRA Opens Exceptional 2019-2020 SEASON

BWW Review: MN OPERA'S Scintillating ELEKTRA Opens Exceptional 2019-2020 SEASON
Photo Credit: Cory Weaver
BWW Review: MN OPERA'S Scintillating ELEKTRA Opens Exceptional 2019-2020 SEASON
Photo Credit: Cory Weaver

The Minnesota Opera (MN OPERA) christened their new season at St. Paul's Ordway Center with Richard Strauss' 1909 score of ELEKTRA combined with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. After a century, Strauss' Elektra, a tragic Greek myth, confronts the wrath of God on men, and the revenge of families on their own parents and siblings to disastrous results. A stellar creative team, which inhabits all MN Opera productions, provides a modern twist to the ancient myth, where the action has been forwarded to the early 1900's. At that time, Austrian filmmaker and producer, Fritz Lang (1890-1976), made history directing silent film noir-when melodramas were a consistent source of entertainment.

Stage Director and Production Designer Brian Staufenbiel along with Costume Designer Matthew LeFebvre sets the enduring story of King Agememnon, ruler of Mycenae from about 400 BC, and his family: wife, Klytamnestra, daughters, Chrysothemis, Elektra, and son, Orest, Agememnon sacrifices his one daughter Iphegenia, to appease a Greek God when he stole a deer from her. The other two daughters then mourn their father who is murdered by the his wife's lover, Aegisth, as they do their sister. The two remaining sisters believe their brother Orest has also been killed, never to return to the kingdom, and provide revenge for their father's death.

The two plus hour, no intermission opera provides a plethora of the film noir Lang would have used and Staufenbeil desired to create a fascinating interpretation. A film crew surrounds the opera performers, several working from the orchestra pit, where a trapezoid screen dropped from the stage's ceiling shows the action through a black and white silent movie, similar to what Lang might have created---scintillating. With the orchestra directed by Conductor Elias Grandy spilt in two on either side of center stage, the performers walk between the separated musicians. Grandy completes a spectacular feat of coordinating film, acting and orchestration with the assistance of Lighting Designer Nicole Pearce together with Video and Projection Designer David Murakami. Using an Art Deco set design in the backdrop complements costumes where sunburst crowns add a sensuous counterpoint to the mourning women. The films transform this ancient myth into a modern 1900's melodrama that intensifies the mourning of each woman.

Three opera singers reach an apotheosis singing the challenging arias and score, including Elektra herself, played on opening night by Sabine Hogrefe. Her sister Chrysothemis sung by Mary Stonikas and the grand Queen herself, Jill Grove, stream Strauss' music with evocative music from the stage to the audience. The entire evening presents a spectacle to every sense, while audiences have learned to expect the best innovation and presentation for MN Opera patrons.

ELEKTRA, and this incredible interpretation of film noir that offers a few original surprises to the myth, only begins MN Opera's season. A beloved production, The Barber of Seville, opens November 9. to provide touches of romance that heightens Giachino Rossini's Commedia del'Arte based opera. After the New Year 2020, January 25, an opera written in 1998 by Jonathan Dove, Flight, soars with the tales of travelers stranded in an airport. Ponder how air travel has changed since that time, and what MN Opera might conceive for this this production.

In a newly commissioned work based on the book "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" by Minnesota author Kate DiCamillo, the MN Opera relied on composer Paola Prestini and librettist Mark Campbell to stage this exciting new production titled Edward Tulane the end of March. While DiCamillo's book was published as a young adult novel, the pertinent themes will resonate with every age of humankind.

The company ends their season in May with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's classic Don Giovanni, based on the myths and stories surrounding the infamous seducer Don Juan, a tantalizing finale before summer returns. Based on the season opening production, ELEKTRA, the Twin Cities can expect imagination and innovation to be front and center on display. Five great reasons remain to purchase a season ticket and experience the excitement of opera---for the very first time or as a genuine opera aficionado. For each and every performance, MN Opera presents both magic, mystery and memorable productions fon stage for their audiences to appreciate.

MN Opera presents their innovative 2019-2020 season at the Ordway Center. For information about specific opera productions, dates or season tickets at

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan