In Review: Staufenbiel and Irvin in Minnesota Opera's "Elektra"
"Craig Irvin as Orest made a vivid impression, completing a front-line vocal roster whose stamina never wavered through the 100-minute, intermission-free span of the opera...In director Brian Staufenbiel’s updating, the characters of Strauss’ opera are actually actors filming “Elektra” — a bloody tale of familial dysfunction — on a studio soundstage, with the orchestra on set behind them...Fussy as it sounds, Staufenbiel’s decision to present “Elektra” as an opera within a movie largely worked." -Star Tribune
"Minnesota Opera opened its 2019-20 season at St. Paul’s Ordway Music Theater on Saturday night with a production of Strauss’ “Elektra” that was among the most imaginative stagings I’ve encountered from this company over the decades. Director Brian Staufenbiel and his design team have created a scenario in which German filmmaker Fritz Lang is on the set of a silent-film adaptation of the tragedy. As cameras and set pieces roll in and out, we witness the Minnesota Opera cast portraying performers presenting Strauss’ opera, the finished product of the silent film they’re creating periodically screened above them. It may sound complicated, but I found it a very intriguing approach to an opera that can be relentlessly bleak if stripped down to its essentials. And the execution of this ambitious vision was impeccable...As the lone male lead, Craig Irvin brings charisma and pure voice to Elektra’s brother, Orest." -Twin Cities
"For the Minnesota Opera's production, stage director Brian Staufenbiel has devised a way to place the heroine's obsessive rage in a context of melodramatic storytelling, using a technology that was just emerging when Elektra premiered in 1909. Staufenbiel places the opera in a silent film studio where the eminent director Fritz Lang is making a grand-scale movie of Elektra, with its jarring score performed by an in-studio orchestra—meaning, on stage, visible to the audience. Performers enter through a gaping mouth cut into a wall of gold filigree, and down an aisle that wends through the orchestra. The pit is filled in to furnish the space from which the director, the cameraman, and other functionaries shoot the film.
During some scenes, as we watch the performers live on stage, the camera shows them on a screen cleverly positioned in front of a mammoth studio set, with their tortured faces in close up, mirroring the hyperbolic emotional images silent movies used to compensate for the absence of the human voice. The effect does not diminish the beauty of the voices that rise up to deliver Strauss's powerful score, but rather adds a visual element that draws parallels between the necessary excess of emotion in both media. It is enriching, enthralling and entertaining.
Craig Irvin, as Orest, has a powerful baritone to match his physically robust bearing, leaving no doubt that he is up to the task Elektra lays at his feet. Irvin achingly shows Orest's pained reaction as Elektra describes the abuses she has been subjected to since their father's death, with every one of her words seeming to strike a blow upon his heart.
Knowing that Elektra is a grisly story that deals with some of the human species' most vile and dangerous instincts, I cannot say I was looking forward to it with joy. However, I found that the inventiveness of the production concept, the stirring grandeur of Strauss's score, the glorious voices of the principals, and the outstanding musicianship of the orchestra combine to make this a stunning production, well worth seeing, and one that will be remembered for a long time to come." -Talkin' Broadway.com