Götz Friedrich’s 1981 Elektra film sets Richard Strauss’ opera in a dark and dingy abandoned 20th-century factory populated by grungy denizens in psuedo-Greek garb. Elektra herself appears like some deranged homeless woman reeking with sweat and slime (in the rain). And the depravity doesn’t stop there. Friedrich plays up the work’s sado-masochistic elements, with bloody whippings and an orgy sequence involving nude lesbians bathing themselves in the blood of a sacrificial ram. Now you might think that all of this detracts from the score, but on the contrary, the production matches image to music so brilliantly that anyone seeing this opera for the first time would think they were created for each other (which allows you to ignore the occasional useless, almost silly gesture, such as the frequent and prolonged shots of Agamemnon’s bloodied visage during Elektra’s opening monologue).
Lucia di Lammermoor catapulted Joan Sutherland to international fame in 1959. It is a role with which her name is now inextricably linked and one which provides a perfect showcase for her remarkable vocal agility and acting ability. Set in the misty moors of Scotland, Lucia di Lammermoor is based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott. It is a tragic tale of star-crossed lovers separated by a family feud. In Gaetano Donizetti's dark, romantic opera, the forces of hate tear the young couple apart, leading to madness and murder. Richard Greager, Malcolm Donnelly, Joan Sutherland. Directed by John Copley, conducted by Richard Bonynge.
This DVD of Ariadne is a 1978 film based on Filippo Sanjust’s Vienna State Opera production. The bustling Prologue is set in the backstage area of the mogul’s palace and the 18th century costumes fit neatly. In the opera proper, the stage is transformed into a very stagey desert island with an improbable set of stairs leading to the heroine’s cave, the action spilling over into the theatre’s side boxes at times. While there’s nothing particularly imaginative about the production, it never distracts from the main event–the music. Strauss was profligate in his melodic gifts, his ability to make a reduced orchestra sound big, and his wonderful obsession with the female voice, which yields many glorious moments in the opera. Lavish casting helps.