On Saturday, San Francisco Opera opened a striking new production of Strauss’ chilling “Elektra” led by formidable soprano Christine Goerke in the title role, in the first time the company has staged the masterpiece in two decades.
English director Keith Warner’s contemporary take on the work based on Sophocles’ tragedy begins with a short added dramatic prologue in a museum, where visitors milling about (and the audience) hear a clever reminder not to use their cellphones just as closing time arrives. All of the museum-goers soon clear out, but one lone woman hides to explore.
With her deception a success, the woman views a film on an ancient Greek tragedy, which moves her so much that, as if a character from mythology, she morphs into Elektra, daughter of murdered King Agamemnon.
The transformation that might seem an artistic effect becomes quite plausible, indeed, thanks to a powerhouse performance from Goerke.
Goerke quickly unleashes her potent, lustrous voice in Elektra’s great monologue “Allein! Weh, ganz allein!” in which she recounts her father’s murder at the hands of her mother and looks forward to the time when she and her brother Orest will avenge his death.
Her seemingly effortless stamina carries her heroically throughout the work as resolutely as Elektra maintains a lust for bloody revenge.
As Elektra’s more human, less implacable sister Chrysothemis, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka is superb. Chrysothemis prefers to avoid conflict and wants a white-picket-fence life with a husband and children, desires the stylishly dressed Pieczonka effectively expresses with affecting grace and a bright, robust, piercing, pleasantly house-filling voice.
Mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens, as mother Klytemnestra, makes an eye-catching entrance, coming alive from within a museum display case. Martens’ smoldering, earthy voice attractively conveys the emotions that drove her to murder her husband, give her nightmares and make her harbor a fateful unease over the prospect of her son’s return to their kingdom of Mycenae.
Among the trio of strong female singers, bass-baritone Alfred Walker capably asserts the alpha male, the avenging Orest, with a muscular, resonant voice, and he successively dispatches Klytemnestra and her lover Aegisth — sung by clear-voiced tenor Robert Brubaker — in grisly, though businesslike, fashion through the set’s dollhouse-style rooms.
Making his company debut, Hungarian conductor Henrik Nanasi displays mastery over Strauss’ bold score, drawing colorful, multilayered sound from the orchestra.
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, Sept.17, Sept. 19, Sept. 22 and Sept. 27; 2 p.m. Sept. 17
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com