Before Coffee: Opera

May 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

I went to the opera yesterday. Yes, on purpose.

I like opera. I’ll catch Mozart’s Don Giovanni as often as possible, and even based my first (terrible) novel on it. The novel I’m currently writing (a space opera, ha ha) was, in its original form, based on Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. It’s changed so much that most of the Der Rosenkavlier bits have been hidden; they provide the back story, but the events of the novel take place in the aftermath.

The opera I saw yesterday was Strauss’s Elektra, which is a bloody revenge story. Elektra’s father, Agamemnon, has been murdered by her mother, Clytemnestra, and Aegisthus, Clytemnestra’s lover. The opera begins with Elektra stark raving mad and waiting for her brother, Orestes, to return and wreak his terrible vengeance.

I thought it would be action-packed, but it was more of a character study of Elektra and the madness she’s been driven to by her father’s death. But what a madness it is. At one point, she fantasizes she, Orestes, and their sister Chrysothemis will murder Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, their servants, their horses, and their dogs:

Father! Agamemnon! Thy day approacheth. As the seasons all 
From the stars rain down, so will an hundred throats 
Of victims rain their life-blood on thy tomb. 
And, as from vessels overturned, blood 
Will from the fettered murderers flow 
And in one wild wave, one torrent 
From them will rain their very life's red life-blood, 
And drench the altars. 
And we slay for thee 
The horses that are stabled here
We drive them 
All to the tomb together, and they know, 
'Tis death, and neigh in the death-laden breeze, 
And perish. And we slaughter all the hounds 
That once did lick thy sandals, 
That went with thee to hunt, and fawned on thee 
For dainty morsels. Therefore must their blood 
Descend to do thee homage meet; and we, 
Thy son Orestes and thy daughters twain, 
We three, when all these things are done, and steam 
Of blood has veiled the murky air with palls 
Of crimson, which the sun sucks upwards, 
Then dance we, all thy blood, around thy tomb 
And o'er the corpses piled, high will I lift, 
High with each step, my limbs; and all the folk 
Who see me dance 
Yea all who from afar 
My shadow see, will say: "For a great King 
All of his flesh and blood high festival 
And solemn revel hold; and blessed he 
That children hath who round his holy tomb 
Will dance such royal dance of Victory!" 
Agamemnon! Agamemnon!

Yeah, Elektra’s not taking her father’s murder too well. She’s even saved the axe they used to kill Agamemnon, and plans to give it to her brother to use.


But despite this bloody vision, the opera is fairly bloodless. Or, at least, this production was. The two friends I went with saw a production in Chicago in which the walls literally dripped with stage blood. The Met’s production had no stage blood at all.

When the vengeance is ultimately wrought, Elektra takes no part in it. Orestes and his companion do all the knife work. The axe is never used. Orestes, stunned, walks off stage; he’s supposed to have been driven mad by the Furies over killing his own mother, but that didn’t really come across.

And then everyone sings about how happy they are that the pair is dead. With their bodies still lying there.

All in all, Elektra wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m still glad I saw it. It rewired my brain a bit, which I find always helps boost my creativity. At the very least, it gave me this:

Can men decay 
And crumble, without sickness, being awake, 
Like garments that the moths have eaten?

I can identify. Later that night, I found myself swearing oaths and drinking rum from a glass skull late into the night, so I’m feeling a bit moth-eaten right now.




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