Opera News hails Staufenbiel and Irvin in Minnesota Opera "Elektra"
"RICHARD STRAUSS'S ELEKTRA is all about primal screams, death cries, dissonance and angst. Silent movies are soundless, if often loudly emotional, affairs. Minnesota Opera combined the two in a provocative new production of Elektra that opened on October 5 at the Ordway Music Theatre in St. Paul. Stage director and production designer Brian Staufenbiel put Strauss’s opera in a new frame, creating a parallel story that overlaid the familiar opera version of the Greek tragedy. . . Among the brilliant strokes of this production (which included enlisting David Murakami for the video and projection design and Mathew Lefebvre for costumes) was putting the orchestra on stage. . . The orchestra pit was covered to extend the Ordway's modest stage and hold seating for more than one hundred orchestra musicians. Lang, played by actor Justin Cook, introduced the show, telling the audience that this was to be a live shoot for a “new” Lang movie, a sequel to a short feature about the murder of Agamemnon, one of the Greek chieftains in the Trojan War. That movie was quickly screened, looking remarkably authentic as a pre-talkie classic, to provide the backstory.Then the Lang character reminded audience members to turn off their "illuminated devices" and called, "Action!" He and the camera operators, grips and other crew members prowled around the stage and mingled as the opera played out. The singers stepped off stage to relax and have a smoke between scenes. There often were live camera shots projected above the stage, as well as backstage footage of what the audience couldn't see. . .
Baritone Craig Irvin, who made his Minnesota Opera debut in Kevin Puts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night in 2011, was superbly cast as Orest, Elektra's long-lost brother. Orest gets one scene, but what a scene—Irvin and Hogrefe were mesmerizing and entirely convincing as they slowly recognized each other and embraced this moment that both have been awaiting. . .
This new take on Elektra makes the characters less mythic and more human. It also adds occasional comic relief, in a tasteful way, and some useful onstage action in an opera that doesn't have much. "