ELEKTRA: Expressionist Opera by Strauss

Elektra is a modern expressionistic opera full of angst and anger and remorse and revenge.  I’m not a huge fan of expressionism (though I love Edvard Munch’s The Scream and the silent film version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), the art form which distorts reality to engender emotion.  But, boy, does this opera in question ever work in this opera by Richard Strauss.

But it’s hard to watch because it’s so disturbing and…well, unrelenting.  It’s a modern treatment of the Sophocles tragedy by the same name. Strauss wrote the opera in 1905 when Freud’s theories were beginning to take hold. So father-daughter complexes and female hysteria run rampant throughout this opera. The music is discordant, scraping the nerve endings and laying them bare.  The sets are bizarre and other-worldly, the makeup horrifying — all to bring about an overwhelming feeling of dejection and remorse.

Elektra, mourning the death of her father, Agamemnon, looks dead herself. Her skin is grey, her hair snarled, and her eyes are yellow with lack of sleep as she plots her revenge and scrabbles at her fathers grave. Her murdering mother, Klytamnestra, confronts Elektra in a key scene and confesses she, too, hasn’t been sleeping since the murder of her husband.  “I have had bad nights,” she says.  It makes your skin crawl — it’s that powerful.

Finally, Elektra’s brother, Orestes, shows up and kills everybody, even the servants, because he’s pretty pissed.  Klytamnestra screams off stage as Orestes strikes her down, and Elektra screams back, “Stab her again!”  Finally, Elektra is revenged and as blood drips from the walls of the castle she dances in the gray rain, her bare feet splashing in puddles of bloody rainwater, until she falls dead.  When the screen goes black you sit there for a few moments trying to get your brain into gear and back to reality.  Or what you thought was reality. You’re actually kind of relieved the opera is over because it was so goddamned oppressive…but you also realize you have just witnessed something that, in some small way, has also contributed to your growth (and destruction) as a human being.

I’m not kidding.  This opera really is that powerful. It changes you, turns you inside out, and not necessarily in a good way, but in a necessary way. It’s hard to explain, but that’s expressionism for you.

I highly recommend this opera to anyone who wants to be disturbed. Give it a peek if you have the time. I think you’ll be impressed, and disturbed. 😛


Lambshead and Daws Crossing on the Clear Fork Comanche Reservation (1855-1859)

This is Lambshead, one of the oldest ranches in the area. It was first built by J.A. Matthews. It lies south of the old Butterfield Stage Route. You could get from St. Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA in 25 days using this route.

This is Daws Crossing where Robert E. Lee signed a peace treaty with the Comanche…for as long as that lasted. It was the site of the main Comanche village at that time. Unfortunately, nothing of the old village is left. This is also where cattle crossed going north on the Western Cattle Trail up to Dodge City. We had a picnic lunch right here on the banks of the river and as we ate we thought about the long violent history of this place.

Part of the Comanche Reservation and Lambshead. The main reservation was mostly north of Lambshead but encompassed Daws Corssing.

The country side is very different today than it was back then and a western writer has to be aware of that. At one time all this was open prairie with an occasional mesquite tree grove. But as the land become “civilized” all the prairie dogs were killed. They used to eat the green mesquite shoots before they became trees. Also, farmers and ranchers started to put out prairie fires. Fire was  a renewing force which kept the prairie open. Now you are hard pressed to find good open prairie anywhere in the vicinity of Fort Griffin or Lambshead.

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