Elektra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Arguably the most compelling tragic opera since Tristan und Isolde, Richard Strauss's Elektra exploits the Wagnerian notion of music drama. Adapted from Sophocles but given a Freudian spin by librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, this 1909 work is a cacophonous combination of psychopathic passion and torrid accusations. For one hour and 50 minutes--in one continuous act--the singers shout and scream to make themselves heard through the all but impenetrable mesh of sounds. Filled with harmonic twists and turns that match the characters' agitated states of mind, Strauss's daring and complex score is remarkably singable, and the vocal line has an intrinsic beauty that makes the rush toward catastrophe more affecting. This concert presentation by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the world's foremost Strauss ensemble, showcases young singers who have been groomed by maestro Daniel Barenboim at the Bayreuth Festival. Deborah Polaski, a Wisconsin native who launched her career as a dramatic soprano in Europe, sings the title role, and Alessandra Marc, another American soprano with a rich, booming voice, sings the part of Elektra's sister Chrysothemis. A third Barenboim protege, baritone Falk Struckmann, makes his U.S. debut as Orestes. The veterans in the cast are mezzo-soprano Uta Priew (Clytemnestra) and tenor James King (Aegisthus). Barenboim conducts of course, but given his unpredictability will he plumb this intense opera's psychological depths? Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Christian Steiner.

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