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OPERA REVIEW : Michael Devlin Strengthens ‘Elektra’ Cast

TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

A new avenger was reunited with his blood-crazed sister in the fourth and final performance of “Elektra,” presented Tuesday by the Music Center Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Michael Devlin, who functions unofficially as the resident would-be heldenbariton , succeeded the lightweight Rodney Gilfry as the mysterious Orest. He made the most of the challenge, under trying conditions.

In this visually eccentric production, staged by David Pountney and designed by John Bury, Agamemnon’s long-lost son staggers on stage looking for all the world like a black-leather robot. A helmet masks his features until the crucial moment of recognition.

“The dogs in the courtyard know me,” Orest cries in cynical desperation, a characteristically misleading supertitle notwithstanding. “But my own sister does not.”

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Dramatically, he yanks off the helmet, and yards of wavy carrot-red locks cascade down his back. The silly gimmick--first used decades ago by Wieland Wagner when Anja Silja suddenly revealed herself as Leonore to the evil Pizarro--produced deserved titters on this occasion.

The audience obviously appreciated the not-so-subtle coincidence: All three children in the royal Mycenae hacienda either got their hair dye from the same bottle or bought their red wigs at the same store.

Devlin bore the climactic indignity with stoic authority. More important, he sang with firm, even basso tones throughout, articulated the text with weighty clarity, and looked as handsome and ominous as our theatrical wizards would allow.

In general, a second viewing of Pountney’s traffic patterns and Bury’s decors did not make the heart grow fonder. It did make one worry, however, about certain similarities with the famous Vienna “Elektra” of Harry Kupfer and Hans Schavernoch--which also features a broken statue of a gigantic Agamemnon--not to mention the Aldenesque “Simone Boccanegra” at the English National Opera--which uses a comparable disembodied hand as central prop.

Despite its scenic problems, however, the Music Center “Elektra” remains a musical triumph. Sympathetically obsessive and amazingly heroic in the title role, Marilyn Zschau paced herself even better than she had at the opening, and rode the mighty climaxes with piercing fervor. Ealynn Voss as Chrysothemis again provided the contrast of soaring radiance. Helga Dernesch intensified the psychological truth in her poignantly vocalized Klytamnestra.

In the crowded pit, Lawrence Foster let the massive score move organically from lyricism to cataclysm. He also inspired virtuosic playing from a huge instrumental ensemble that could boast the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at its core.

If only the Music Center had done half as well this season with “Fidelio” and “Orfeo”. . . .


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