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date: 22 November 2019

Mourning Becomes Electralocked

  • Andrew Stiller

Extract

Opera in three acts by Marvin David Levy to a libretto by Henry Butler after Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy of plays; New York, Metropolitan Opera, 17 March 1967.

Mourning Becomes Electra was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy, based loosely on the Oresteia of Aeschylus, takes some six hours to perform; Butler, the Metropolitan’s stage director, had to do some heroic cutting to bring it down to opera-libretto dimensions. The titles of the individual plays, Homecoming, The Hunted and The Haunted, became those of the opera’s three acts.

The action takes place in an unidentified New England seaport town in 1865 and the year following. Outside the family home, Christine Mannon (Clytemnestra; soprano) learns from her daughter Lavinia (Electra; soprano) that the men of the family are due to return soon from the Civil War. Lavinia is both jealous and censorious of her mother’s relationship with the sea-captain Adam Brant (Aegisthus; baritone), and neither of the lovers can succeed in making her sympathetic to their cause. Feigning resignation, Christine requests a last private moment with Adam, during which he gives her a bottle of poison to be used against her husband Ezra (Agamemnon; bass), who now makes his appearance. That night (Act 1 scene ii) Christine deliberately confesses her affair to Ezra in order to bring on an attack of angina. Instead of his medicine, she gives him the poison, and he dies calling for Lavinia....

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