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HKPO Opens New Season with Elektra in Concert


Hong Kong, 9 August 2005 – The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPO) will open its warmly welcomed new season of 2005/06 with a concert presentation of Richard Strauss’s sensational opera, Elektra. This is HKPO’s second opera in concert since last season’s standard-setting success, Salome. One of the greatest living Wagnerian sopranos, Dame Gwyneth Jones, will join an international cast of 13 vocalists, including the two stars of Salome Susan Bullock and Christ Merritt, 111 orchestral musicians, and a chorus, all under the baton of Maestro Edo de Waart.

Two performances will be held on 15 & 17 September 2005 (Thu & Sat) at 8pm in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (HKCC) Concert Hall. A post-concert cocktail reception will be held to celebrate the gala opening of 2005/06 Season.

“I am extremely proud of how wonderfully the Orchestra played in Salome last Season, and, after doing so much work together in the intervening months, I am confident that the Orchestra will rise to the even greater challenges of Richard Strauss’s next opera, Elektra. So, with the Orchestra in fine form, a superb cast of singers and an operatic masterpiece, the new season is sure to get off to an unforgettable start,“ said Edo de Waart, Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of HKPO.

“We are most honoured that legendary Chinese martial arts novelist Louis Cha made an invaluable gift to our season opener, Elektra. He translated the title into idiomatic classical Chinese, which literally means ‘love and hatred in the palace’, in the same vein as Mr. Cha’s novels of suspenseful relationships and courtly intrigue,” de Waart added.

Elektra, based on the Greek drama by Sophocles, tells of Elektra’s obsessive hatred for her mother, the queen Klytaemnestra who murdered her own husband to bed with the enemy. In this opera that delves deep into the human psyche, irony and parody, dramatic plot developments are matched minute by minute with orchestral music laden with tension and passion. Premiered in 1909 in Dresden, the Opera has entered into the operatic repertoire worldwide. It also marked the beginning of the long and fruitful collaboration between composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hoffmansthal, 5 years before the sensational triumph of Der Rosenkavalier, which brought tremendous wealth and instant celebrity to both creators.

Edo de Waart has enjoyed success conducting a large and varied repertoire in many of the greatest opera houses of the world, such as Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera and Bayreuth. He also gave the world premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China. Notable productions have included Madame Butterfly, Les Troyens and Fidelio for the Netherlands Opera, Der Rosenkavalier for Paris Opera, Bastille and The Marriage of Figaro for the Metropolitan Opera and the Salzburg Festival. Edo de Waart also conducted the Sydney Symphony in concert performances of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Last season, he conducted concert performances of Der Ferne Klang (Schreker), Der Zwerg (Zemlimsky) and Manon Lescaut
(Puccini) with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic.

Starring as Elektra is Susan Bullock, whose recent performance at Wigmore Hall in March this year has enjoyed enormous critical acclaims. ”A remarkable, shocking achievement by a fine artist at the peak of her powers,“ hailed Tim Ashley, star critic of The Guardian. She has performed the role of Elektra in her La Scala debut as well as in Oper Frankfurt, Sachsische Staatsoper Dresden and Opera de Rouen. Bullock is returning to Hong Kong by popular demand since her appearances as Salome with HKPO last season.

“The role of Elektra demands that you are on stage for the entire opera, and the vocal writing asks for great extremes… it is a physical and vocal work-out”, says Bullock.

Dame Gwyneth Jones, a true legend in the opera world, is one of most successful and versatile opera singers. She has sung in all the important opera houses and festivals, and triumphed in operas by Richard Strauss, Verdi, and Puccini. She is also an outstanding interpreter of Wagner’s heroines, having sung all the leading Wagnerian soprano roles, except Elsa, to critical acclaim. Dame Gwyneth will perform HKPO’s Elektra as Klytaemnestra.

A favourite of audiences and critics alike in HKPO’s Salome last season, Chris Merritt is returning to sing the role of Aegisth, Klytaemnestra’s lover. Merritt has appeared around the world's major operatic centres: the Metropolitan Opera; La Scala; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Chicago Lyric Opera; Vienna State Opera; the San Francisco Opera; the Paris Opera; the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires since his operatic debut in 1975. In concert he has also appeared under many eminent conductors, with the most renowned of orchestras. He recently sang the role of Aegisth in Tokyo under the baton of Seiji Ozawa.

Also on the cast are the winner of the coveted 1996 Kathleen Ferrier award Geraldine McGreevy (as Chrysothemis) and renowned British baritone David Wakeham (as Orest). Brian Montgomery, Head of Vocal Studies at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, David Quah, Kathryn Dineen, Kirsti Harms, Deborah Humble, Gaye MacFarlane, Merlyn Quaife, and a chorus with 10 to 20 members join the stellar cast. Andrea Katz, who helped in the musical preparation of HKPO’s Salome, will return to Hong Kong for Elektra.

Central to the performance will be an orchestra of 111 musicians, one of the largest required by any opera in the repertoire. The huge orchestration – comprising 20 woodwinds, 20 brass, 62 strings and more than 10 different types of percussion – is necessary to convey the sheer power of the masterpiece.

The plot of Elektra follows the troubled life of Elektra, daughter of Agamemnon and Klytaemnestra. The young woman has never recovered from the murder of her father by her mother. Having hurried her brother Orest to safety, Elektra lives as a servant in Klytaemnestra's palace, keeping the memory of her father alive and waiting for the day of retribution. Elektra never attempts to mask the hatred she harbours for her mother, and the scene in which Elektra interprets her mother's nightmares is a powerful and dramatic confrontation between mother and daughter.

When news arrives that her brother is dead, Elektra swears to take revenge; but with the arrival of a stranger it soon becomes clear that Orest lives. Having gained entry into the palace in disguise, he and Elektra form a pact to avenge their father's murder. Orest enters the palace and moments later the blood-curdling death cries of Klytaemnestra follow the sound of an axe falling. The palace is now in turmoil and Orest completes the deed with the slaying of Klytaemnestra's lover Aegisth.

While maids and servants rejoice at the end of their tyranny, Elektra begins to dance in uncontrolled ecstasy, increasingly unaware of everything around her. Her mad dance accelerates into a frenzy and she falls dead on the ground.

Elektra is the second instalment of HKPO’s multi-year initiative to present major operas in concert performances. In January 2005, de Waart and HKPO’s performance of Salome – Opera in Concert was a stunning event that transformed the conventional concert-going experience. It was a first-class performance that set a new standard in Hong Kong operatic history. Esteemed music critic Leo Lee commented in Yazhou Zhoukan, “in the few months since Edo de Waart took over the HKPO, he has transformed it, and their performance now sounds like that of a first-class, international orchestra. This is truly a miracle.” South China Morning Post commented, “De Waart breathlessly realised buildups to climax after climax.” The Peak magazine said, “The powerfully inspired performance by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra left the audience in awe of the home-grown talent’s world-class potential.”

Elektra, an one-act opera, runs about 105 minutes without an intermission. Latecomers will not be admitted, so audiences are advised to arrive early. The Opera will be sung in German with Chinese and English surtitles.

To give audiences a comprehensive introduction to the opera, HKPO launches a bilingual website Apart from detailed background information about the composer, the music and the performers, it will be filled with updates and snapshots from the rehearsals, once they are under way in September. A pre-concert talk, conducted in Cantonese, will be held on 17 September, 7pm, at the HKCC and is free for all ticket-holders.

Tickets are now available at URBTIX at HK$600, $450, $300, and $150, through reservation at 2734 9009 (URBTIX) or Credit Card Booking at 2111 5999 (Cityline). For enquiries, please visit or call 2721 2030.