From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Chicago

by Megan Meister

I sat at the gate in an airplane for two and a half hours this morning at DFW hoping my flight would be cleared to take off for Chicago.  High winds had slowed air traffic into O’Hare and I had auditions scheduled this afternoon with eleven young singers from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Center and a ticket for this evening’s performance of ELEKTRA.

After the announcement of a second delay I began to think that I would have to get off and give up, but we finally pulled away from the gate after some of the passengers who had left the plane re-boarded and I arrived in Chicago without further incident.

The auditions were good and I was happy to have the chance to once again hear soprano Kiri Deonarine, who won the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition in 2010.   She was supposed to make her Dallas Opera debut next season, but I agreed to release her from her commitment to sing a very small role with us so that she can make her Metropolitan Opera debut in a more significant part.

The primary reason I wanted to come to Chicago today, however, was to attend the last performance of a new production of Richard Strauss’ 1909 masterpiece ELEKTRA, and it was, well, electrifying!

The production was superbly conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric Opera’s music director and directed by recently knighted Sir David McVicar, who created a stunning production.

David made his American debut with The Dallas Opera about twelve years ago with an unforgettable production of Massenet’s MANON, and these two operas couldn’t be more dissimilar!

I was overwhelmed by his staging of ELEKTRA, and the way he developed the relationships between the characters and the marvelous “stage pictures” he created.

The set and costumes by John Macfarlane and the lighting by Jennifer Tipton were highly theatrical but they merely created the environment in which three singers could create unforgettable performances in this incredibly challenging work.

Jill Grove (who was the “First Norn” in TDO’s GOETTERDAEMMERUNG about ten years ago) was a terrifying “Klytemnestra” (and I mean that as a great compliment.)  She created a wonderful characterization of this monstrous woman while still singing a role that is often merely “barked.”

Emily Magee, who appeared as “Chrysothemis” has also appeared with The Dallas Opera (in productions of DON GIOVANNI and MARRIAGE OF FIGARO) and sang radiantly and looked gorgeous (the only character in this production who was allowed that privilege—everyone else was meant to look grotesque.)  She was really glorious in the role.  Emily’s birthday is Halloween, so of course I told her that the only reason I flew up from Dallas was so that I could wish her a happy birthday in person!  She is scheduled to return to Dallas in a few seasons and I can hardly wait!

Perhaps the most remarkable performance though was from Christine Goerke in the title role.   I have known Christine since she was in the Met Young Artists program, and I was chairman of the Tucker Foundation’s auditions committee the year she won the prestigious Richard Tucker Award.  In those days she sang mostly Handel and Mozart, and some of us predicted that she might one day maybe sing NORMA (which she eventually did) but no one could have predicted that one day she would be one of the foremost ELEKTRAs of her generation.  I was simply stunned with how beautifully this role was sung, with a combination of delicacy and power that was simply breathtaking.

There was not a weak link in the large cast, with wonderful singing from Alan Held as “Orest” and Roger Honeywell as “Aegisth” just to single out two other outstanding performances.

This was an evening I will remember for many years to come.

I should add though that Dallas did a spectacular production of ELEKTRA about fifteen years ago with an incredible cast led by Marilyn Zschau as “Elektra”, Nadine Secunde as “Chrysothemis” and Helge Dernesch as “Klytemnestra”, directed by John Copley and conducted by Graeme Jenkins.

It was pretty extraordinary, too!

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