Elecktra

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Electktra & Klytämnestra (sic)

Last night I saw the Lyric Opera’s Electra by R. Strauss. I’d just read Agamemnon so I was lucky to see this story, which is the next in Aeschylus’ trilogy. When Agamemnon ends, when Clytemnestra (in German Klytämnestra) kills her husband because he killed their daughter Iphigeneia to appease the gods. Their son, Orestes is outraged and wants revenge.

This opera opens with some maids gossiping about Elektra, Orestes’ sister,  has been acting oddly. Only one maid stands up for the Elektra.

The setting is stark and dystopian. A columned palace has rubble all around. Everyone’s dressed in drab grays and browns. Later Elektra comes out and laments her father’s death. She asserts that her siblings and she will dance at their father’s tomb. Hmm. I suppose that was some custom in ancient days.

Kytämnestra comes on stage and she’s quite a sight. While I picture her as a Greek goddess, what I saw was truer to the composer’s vision, i.e. a solid German woman. The costume was much like the scenery – savage, brutal and dystopian. She looked more like a monster than a woman. I found it odd that neither Klytämnestra nor her ladies had sleeves. The bottom part of their gowns, though dark and depressing, seemed to cry out for sleeves of some kind. All these noble women had frightful, garish make up.

The story continues with lots of lamenting from Elektra, who does hope that her brother can take action and get justice for her father’s death. Chrysothemis, Elektra’s sister is somewhat caught in the middle, though she doesn’t see that there’s no safety in the middle. Chrysothemis just wants to get married and have a slew of children, but in a society so soaked in blood, that can’t happen. Klytämnestra expends her energy worrying about whether Orestes will seek justice through murder.

I found this story quite gory and very German, rather than Greek. The cast was heavier and the make up and sets were also dark and heavy. The performances were excellent except that sometimes Elektra waved her arms around in an odd way.

I was lucky to see the next installment of this ancient story, but I don’t think everyone needs to see it. My guess is that Il Traviata, which is also playing, is the better opera right now.

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Word of the Week

pf cookie

Click image for link to recipe

pfeffernuss, n.‘ A small, round, sweet biscuit flavoured with spices such as ginger, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, etc., and typically eaten during the Christmas season. Usu. in pl.’]

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈ(p)fɛfənʊs/, U.S. /ˈ(p)fɛfərˌnəs/
Inflections: Plural pfeffernüsse, pfeffernuesse, pfeffernusse, pfeffernussen.
Forms: 18– pfeffernuss, 19– peffernissen U.S. regional (Pennsylvania), plural, 19– pfeffernuß. Also as two words and with capital initial(s).
Etymology: < German Pfeffernuss gingerbread biscuit (1741 or earlier; < Pfeffer pepper n. + Nuss nut n.1). Compare Dutch pepernoot (1778), German regional (Low German) Pepernööt (plural), Danish pebernød (1710). Compare the earlier calque peppernut n.
In plural form peffernissen after Pennsylvania German pefferniss (plural peffernissen; compare German regional (Palatinate) Peffernuß, plural Pefferniß).
Chiefly U.S.
A small, round, sweet biscuit flavoured with spices such as ginger, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, etc., and typically eaten during the Christmas season. Usu. in pl.
1891 Los Angeles Times 22 Nov. 14 (advt.) Pfeffernusse and Lebkuchen at Jevne’s.
1928 E. E. Hoyt Consumption of Wealth viii. 76 A German woman moved into a small New England village, and in three years all the housewives were making pfeffernüsse at Christmas time.
1969 N.Y. Times 20 Dec. 24/1 For Christmas, baking and giving Bremen pfeffernusse—crisp, cinnamon-cardamom flavored rolled cookies—has been a tradition in the Luhrs home for generations.
1998 Christian Sci. Monitor (Electronic ed.) 24 Dec. 15 She would come down three flights, tousle my hair, and give me a Pfeffernuss.

Word of the Week

Kul·tur·kampf

[German kool-toor-kahmpf] noun

the conflict between the German imperial government and the Roman Catholic Church from 1872 or 1873 until 1886, chiefly over the control of education and ecclesiastical appointments.
Origin:
< German:  culture struggle, equivalent to Kultur culture + Kampf  battle, struggle (cognate with Old English camp ); see camp1 , kemp1
I found this on The Atlantic’s Wire email. I think it’s better than “culture wars.”

Lyric’s Hansel und Gretel

gretel

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Engelbert Humperdink’s (the original Humperdink, not the pop singer) Hansel und Gretel. As you’d expect the music was heavenly and the story was compelling. This version emphasized the hunger and poverty this family experienced. The first act portrays how this family has no food other than a small jug of milk, probably 2 cups full, hardly enough for a family of four. The children lament how they’re starving and long for food. During the pre-opera lecture, we were reminded  that before a neighbor gave Hansel and Gretel‘s family the milk, the probably hadn’t eaten breakfast or dinner the night before. Yet when they get rambunctious and are cavorting around the kitchen they break the milk jug losing the only food the family has.

The mother returns and is furious when she learns that the milk’s gone. She sends Hansel and Gretel into the forest to get a large bowl full of berries. After they leave, their father returns and fortunately, he’s sold all his goods, the brooms he makes, and has bought a large bag of food. Their problems are over. When father learns that the children are off in the woods, he’s alarmed. The forest is dangerous. A terrible witch who preys on children lives there. What was mother thinking?

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The second act is set in the forest, done with a minimal naturalistic style, with dark, foreboding visuals. Again the music is moving and the visuals compel. The highlight of the act was when the children say their prayers singing to the 14 angels who protect them.

Opera newcomers would appreciate this performance as the story is so familiar and the music is beautifully sung. There are some differences from the cozier versions of the story we usually hear. The mother is not a stepmother. The scenes with the bread crumbs aren’t here and we don’t see a colorful candy house. So the artistry of the sets isn’t what you’d expect, but the visuals do express the theme of hunger and hard times well.

All in all, this production of Hansel und Gretel pulls us in from start to finish.

Faust, Part 1

My online book club’s October pick was Faust, Part 1 by Goethe. While I liked the poetry of the play, I found it made me read too fast. The rhythm pulled me swiftly along, and pages would go by, before I realized I hadn’t remembered what had happened.

Faust is the legendary story of a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for success in this life. The bargain soon turns out to be horrid. Faust gets to seduce Margaret (sometimes called Gretchen), but she gets pregnant and since she lives in a society that will exact punishment for that transgression, she drowns the baby. Every favor turns out horrible for Faust.

I read that Goethe was influenced in part by the Book of Job. He takes the bet between Satan and God in a different direction, but it’s quite dramatic. The play ventures into that dark realm that’s I’d say next door to the horror genre, a genre I don’t like at all. So I found the play masterfully written, but I didn’t get into the story and doubt I’d return to it. Still it is worth reading.