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Goerke stars in Lyric's blood-soaked 'Elektra'

Associated Press Published: October 7, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) — "There will be blood!" insist the ads for Lyric Opera's production of "Elektra," — and indeed there is, cascading down the steps of Agamemnon's palace near the end of Richard Strauss' one-act opera.

Enough blood, in David McVicar's new production that opened the season Saturday night, for soprano Christine Goerke to cap her heroic performance in the title role by smearing it over her hands and face in exultation: Her brother, Orest, has just avenged their father's murder by killing their mother, Klytaemnestra and her lover, Aegisth.

Goerke is making her Lyric debut in a part that has few equals for difficulty in the dramatic soprano repertory. Elektra is onstage virtually throughout the hour-and-45-minute work, and much of the time Strauss requires her to sing out at full volume over almost impossibly dense orchestration.

She meets the challenge fearlessly. Unlike many Elektras, Goerke has a voice that's warm and rich in vibrato rather than diamond-bright. Her low notes in particular have a lovely, velvety texture. As she rises through the scale, she occasionally wavers slightly in pitch, but her high notes ring out true and confident.

More than when she first performed the role in Madrid a year ago, Goerke inhabits the different aspects of the character persuasively: part wounded creature, slapping her own head repeatedly in despair; part conniving schemer, cozying up to her mother only to unleash her scorn and fury; part loving sister, tenderly cradling her long-lost brother's head in her lap.

But despite its virtuosic demands, "Elektra" is far from a one-woman show. Lyric has assembled a fine supporting cast, led by the chilling Klytaemnestra of mezzo-soprano Jill Grove. Bald-headed and costumed grotesquely with heavily bejeweled bosom and pleated gold skirt, Grove makes her character seem to reek of moral decay as she recounts her unrelenting nightmares. She brings prodigious power to her disconnected utterances — set to some of Strauss' most daringly dissonant music — and her very lowest notes in particular are crushing in their brutal force.

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