Orest, Opera by Manfred Trojahn
The myths and dramas of Ancient Greece are as convoluted as they are violent. In them families and loved ones quickly become mortal enemies. Manfred Trojahn offers a modern version of one such tragedy, in which Orest kills his own mother on the advice of the sun-god Apollo. The ensuing drama, titled simply Orest, will unfold at the Vienna State Opera this season.
Trojahn's Orest picks up where Richard Strauss' Elektra leaves off. The German composer and librettist takes his cue from the classic Greek drama by Euripides, but he makes his work all about the title character. From the bone-chilling opening scene, which depicts Clytemnestra's death at the hands of her own son, the opera hurls us deep into Orest’s emotional turmoil and does not let up.
As we follow the ordeals of Orest and his sister Elektra, we witness the deepening emotional turmoil which takes over the murderer's soul. Sinking ever deeper into the pain and confusion, Orest continues down his violent path towards an uncertain future, banished from his native Greece and forever consumed by guilt that only multiplies as the days go by.
Manfred Trojahn's Orest is a masterclass in character study. Since its premiere at Amsterdam’s Opera House on 8 December 2011, the work has been a popular modern classic, highly praised for its exploration of profound human emotions, dark choices with tragic consequences, and the ever-relevant questions of freewill and divine intervention.
Some might call its length of six scenes and all but 80 minutes modest, but the undisputed intensity of Orest's score and action provide more than enough dramatic layering. Trojahn works off Strauss' Elektra not only in terms of storyline but also with identifiable musical quotations, which revive and develop the German Romantic composer's expressionist streak.
Orest himself is a baritone and not a tenor, the typical operatic hero. Trojahn pens melodies in tune with the character's mental breakdown and inner anguish. The oddness of the middle register lends further anxiety to every line, and the moments of unbridled pain, desperation, uncertainty, or terror take haunting and uneasy vocal forms.
German modern classical composer and writer Manfred Trojahn breathes new life into a poignant Greek drama. The guilt-ridden Orest and his escapades will set alight the stage of the Wiener Staatsoper.