Mourning Becomes the Florida Grand Opera
“Enjoy the monotony of tears,” dead relatives sing to the title character at the close of Marvin David Levy’s opera, Mourning Becomes Electra. That’s good advice for the audience of the bizarre spectacle that opened the Florida Grand Opera’s 2013-2014 season last Saturday. With no real beginning or ending, Electra is a grim story of death, adultery, murder, and incest, set to music in a continuous climax. Based on Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy of plays bearing the same name, and Aeschylus’ Oresteia before that, Electra is about a New England family named Mannon in post-civil war America. Stage director Kevin Newbury places the haunting story in a gothic landscape, filled with ghosts. With set designer Anya Klepikov and projection designer Wendall K. Harrington, Newbury created a simple but highly effective set consisting of a dollhouse and two periaktoi, revolving wooden triangles first used for quick scene changes in ancient Greece. In the present production, the periaktoi loom like picture frames, where family portraits, landscapes, and the ghosts of those who die throughout the opera are projected. The dollhouse is a replica of the Mannon house, a place of eternal damnation. The spare staging matches the slimmed down opera, which has shed a whole act since it was composed by Levy in 1967. FGO made it shorter still. Unfortunately, the cuts are noticeable in the form of awkward silences and breaks in the music that don’t quite make sense. With no chorus to bridge the gaps, the current incarnation doesn’t quite cohere. Yet it still works, thanks to the opera’s real protagonist, the orchestra. Levy gives much of the singing and the drama to his orchestration, with colorful percussion, soaring strings, and a bassoon to add mystery and darkness, maybe even hopelessness. One could go as far as to say that the singers merely articulate in words what the orchestra conveys. Not that this takes away from the marvelous and down-right virtuosic singing by the entire cast. There was no weak link at this assembly, led by Electra veteran Lauren Flanigan as Christine Mannon, the family’s matriarch. Flanigan has sung this role since 1998 at Lyric Opera of Chicago, then at Seattle Opera in 2003, and again at New York City Opera in 2004. Flanigan’s oak-strong soprano voice projected impressively throughout, as if boosted by an amplifier. It blended perfectly with that of Rayanne Dupuis, who sang the role of Lavinia Mannon, the daughter, in other words Electra. Dupuis’ chest voice gained more and more power throughout the evening, perhaps fueled by murderous and suicidal energy. There were exquisite moments amid the relentess gloom. In a scene reminiscent of Rigoletto, Christine, her lover Adam Brant, and her grown children, Lavinia and Orin form a quartet. The adulterers meet secretly in the hull of a ship, planning their escape. Up on deck, the siblings plot their mother’s lover’s murder. Despite the subject matter, the music took a brighter, loving tone and even drew applause from the audience. A quartet of ghosts convenes at Electra’s close, luring Lavinia into their world of eternal sorrow. Unable to resist, Lavinia opens the doors of the dollhouse and lays down inside, while the orchestra moans its final unresolved chords. Seldom has sorrow been so enjoyable. Mourning Becomes Electra continues on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 8:00 p.m. at the Arsht Center for Performing Arts, Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; for tickets, tickets.fgo.org.