Opera review: Elektra at the State Opera

Just a few performances are left before the State Opera closes for renovations

The State Opera will be closing for a much-needed two-year renovation, and the final premiere before it goes dark was Elektra, a one-act opera by Richard Strauss.

In 2014, the State Opera presented Salome, another of Strauss' more controversial works. Fellow composer Giacomo Puccini in 1909 said, “Salome is still tolerable, but Elektra is just too much!”

For its time, Elektra's score was quite modern, with dissonance and parallel harmonies. Strauss heeded the criticism, as his future works were not so extreme. But that also makes Elektra a landmark in his career.

Strauss' version of Elektra is also one of the most frequently staged operas based on Greek mythology.

The current production at the State Opera has only five performances, with just two left on June 22 and 25.

The lead role is being sung by British soprano Susan Bullock, who has been specializing in 20th century German opera. She has performed the role of Elektra, in different productions, at La Scala and the Met. She earned the Royal Philharmonic Society's award for best singer in 2009 for Elektra in a production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In 2014 she was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).

She heads up an international cast with Rosalind Plowright as Clytemnestra, Anna Gabler as Chrysothemis, Richard Berkeley-Steele as Aigistha and Miguelangelo Cavalcanti as Orestes.

The State Opera's current production of the one-act play starts with the curtain already up as the audience slowly files in for their seats. On stage, people in street clothes are milling about the interior of a museum that has an exhibition of Greek artifacts, including the so-called Mask of Agamemnon and several weapons. Video screens are showing a film related to Elektra and Agamemnon.

The guards lock up the museum, but one patron has remained in hiding and comes out to watch the video once everything is locked up.

The patron is indeed Elektra, and the opera takes a for the time modern psychological approach to her story. Further characters begin to appear in the museum, including the deceased Agamemnon.

The story is no fairy tale. There is a convoluted revenge plot, and those ancient weapons in glass cases are pressed into use. There is also an extremely gruesome execution, at least for an opera.

The one-act play goes from start to finish without a break. Indeed, there is not even a single pause for applause after any of the more difficult passages.

Strauss' opera has been described as a symphony with words, though Strauss himself disagreed with that assessment and hoped people in the future would think differently.

The opera was directed by British director Keith Warner, who is known for his stagings of Wagner's operas. He has directed over 150 operas in 20 countries and has also written librettos for three operas by David Blake.

He explained some of the idea behind the concept. “The story is set in a contemporary museum of ancient history in which a young girl is acquainted with the life of the mythical Elektra. The tragedy of Agamemnon’s daughter raises gradually long-suppressed memories and demons in her. … The audience becomes a witness to a personal and sincere attempt at self-knowledge, initiated by a very strong, albeit fictional sequence of events. The key question for us was whether we can face the truth if we decide not to hide from lies,” Warner s said in a press release.

The cleverest part of the production, and what keeps the action moving without a pause, is the set by Slovak stage designer Boris Kudlička, who also worked on the State Opera's production of Strauss' Salome.

The set for Elektra is a rather convincing marbled interior of a museum. As the action goes on, though, sections of the wall are pulled out to reveal other types of rooms such as a bedroom and a kitchen where key events take place. Just as quickly they are rolled away again.

“The reason we set the story in the place of the contemporary minimalist museum is that it is full of the various historical artifacts that may serve very well as mechanisms enabling introspection,“ set designer Boris Kudlička said.

So much work went into the set that it seems a pity it will only be used five times.

If you haven't been to the State Opera, you should take the chance to see some of the remaining performances as the next chance to go there will be more than two years away.

For more information and tickets please visit www.narodni-divadlo.cz

Video on YouTube

Related articles

  • 'Movie Barf Monday' - a weekly English friendly film night by Ryan Keating

    Movie Barf and Edison Filmhub are thrilled to present 'Movie Barf Monday' - a weekly English friendly film night dedicated to screening a diverse variety of award-winning contemporary and classic films in the new Edison Filmhub cinema and bar located in Prague's old town.

  • The Prague Orgy - a new Czech film in English in Czech cinemas by Michal Kráčmer


  • Festival 4+4 Days in Motion by Eliška Míkovcová (4+4 Festival)

    Festival 4+4 Days in Motion to start in Desfours Palace, this year’s slogan is Nobody Has Anything

  • Lunchmeat Festival 2019—Dark Stars on the Horizon by Tony Ozuna - (Photo Lunchmeat Festival)

    Lunchmeat Festival returns to Prague at the end of September as the leading arena for cutting-edge electronic music and with more audio-visual punch than ever before. Their new motto is a challenge to the mainstream: “obsessed with audio-visual mindf**cks— & those who question the status quo.”

  • The Best European Locations For Hen & Stag Do's by Lucy Stevens

    Alpha Travel Insurance have ranked Europe's top Stag and Hen do destinations and indexed them based on factors including the cost of flights and hotel, the cost of a pint and the number of bars and activities available to find out which city comes out on top.

  • Circus and Theatre Festival Letní Letná Kicks off Next Week by Paul Lysek

    The "Leave the Crowd Speachless" Summer Circus Festival is back for its 16th Season at Letna.

  • Events for the week of August 19 - 23 by Narmin Ismiyeva

    We've highlighted five events for this week including The Great Beauty, Latino Anděl and Festival of Illustration.

  • Events for the weekend 17 - 18 August by Narmin Ismiyeva

    Are you making plans for the weekend? We've highlighted six events including the 1981 Secondhand Festival, beer tasting in the Botanical Garden, Etnopicnic and a lesson of Argentine tango atop Lucerna. 

  • Events for the weekend 3 - 4 August by Narmin Ismiyeva

    Are you making plans for the weekend? We've selected six events including the Czech version of the famous South Asian festival of love and colors that will take place on Střelecký Island on Saturday.

  • Events for the week 29 July - 2 August by Narmin Ismiyeva

    Are you in Prague this week looking for things to do? We have one event for each day, including yoga in Stromovka and screening of Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel in Karlín.

Facebook comments

The James Joyce Irish Pub

Best Irish Pub in Prague

T.G.I. Friday's (Anděl)

A true legend in the restaurant industry - TGI Friday's

T.G.I. Friday's (Příkopy)

A true legend in the restaurant industry - TGI Friday's

Ristorante Casa de Carli

Authentic Italian cuisine in Prague

Charles Bridge Museum

Discover the history of Prague’s famous Charles Bridge

Trabant Museum Prague

Trabant Museum @ STK Motol

Army Museum Žižkov

Armádní muzeum Žižkov

National Memorial to the...

Národní památník hrdinů heydrichiády


Prague’s # 1 source for Czech news in English…


Expat and Czech Business Professional Network


German Language Info Service