It's a grim and bloody tale propelled by the music of Richard Strauss, a retelling of a Greek tragedy with enough dysfunctional family elements to fill out several seasons of any soap opera. Mom and her lover have killed Dad, the king. Daughter No.1 wants revenge on Mom, daughter No.2 wants to forget about it and lead a normal life and Son has been banished from the kingdom and he might be dead too.
It is Elektra, returning to the Houston Grand Opera stage for the first time in 25 years, with the lead role being sung by the superlative Christine Goerke. In 101 action packed minutes it takes us through all this family saga in ancient Greece without an intermission.
Bass baritone Greer Grimsley will be singing the part of Orest, the missing brother, in only the second time he's done it and after several years. "He's kind of like the Black Knight in Ivanhoe who ends up being Richard the Lionheart. The surprise is that he is alive."
"It is true Greek tragedy ," he says. "I think it is fascinating the relationships between these characters.Greek tragedies with its elevated characters were a natural for the opera, he says. And then along came Richard Strauss at the turn of the century. "People were pushing against everything that they knew. And so shock was it."
Greeks considered their theater a group catharsis, Grimsley says. When Strauss did Salome and Elektra he condensed the action in each to what is considered a short form for opera. "I think the intent was to make it as dramatically intense as possible. It increases that emotional journey."
Grimsley grew up in New Orleans and was always surrounded by music.. "I just sort of did it for fun up until a certain point." Through most of high school he wanted to be an archaeologist. "I decided to audition for the rmusic school at Loyola. I had been doing musicals. I knew I could sing but I didn't define myself that way."
He didn't have any classical training until college although in sixth grade he'd taught himself how to play the trumpet. He worked his way through college and spent every spare moment in the music library listening. He thought he'd learn classical style but pursue musical theater.
For the two years after college he managed a dinner theater in Naples, Florida. "If you knew what it was like to manage a dinner theater at the time I was managing it in Naples, Florida, Dante would have written a new ring of hell."
Looking for some place to continue his musical training, he applied to only one school. "It was Julliard. And I got in," he says laughing.
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After a year at Julliard, he joined the HGO studio and ended up living in Houston from 1980 to 1986. He says it's special to him that he's able to come back here now even though it will be at HGO's temporary home in George R. Brown while repairs continue at the Wortham. He also welcomed the chance to work again with Goerke. "We did a Fidelio together."
He hopes audiences will turn out for this distinctive opera. "I would like to say to the public, don't be dissuaded by the venue because the drama and what we are doing onstage won't be diminished one bit. My hat's off to the administration here for putting together the Resilience Theatre."
The 2016 Richard Tucker winning soprano Tamara Wilson, is making her role debut as Elektra's sister Chrysothemis, Michaela Martens is Klytaemnestra, Chad Shelton is Aegisth and Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers is conducting.
Performances are scheduled for January 19 through February 2 at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturday and Wednesday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Resilience Hall, George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida De Las Americas. Sung in German with projected English translation. For information call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $25-$322.