Last night, RSC and I went to Elektra, Strauss's opera, at the Kennedy Center. It. was. awful. And even a lay person could appreciate that.
First, Elektra is not a strong opera to start with. The music is nice, but the main character does absolutely nothing. Elektra's mother, Clytamnestra, conspires with her lover to kill Agamemnon, Elektra's father, upon his return from war. The opera opens with Elektra camped out at the doors of the house. She does not avenge her father's death. She waits for Orestes, her brother. He then kills their mother and her lover - off-stage. Elektra, overcome by just hearing the events through the walls, dies. Right. Hey Rick, how about involving the characters in what is actually happening?
Second, this is a singing thingy, so don't drown 'em out. If I can't hear the notes, they might as well lip-sync.
Third, when the singing falters the sets and lighting usually swoop in to hook you. Not here. The set was at once plain and messy - the angular walls might have retained their power in a start white, black, or gray, but with the smears of color and washed-out photographs the set took the appearance of a rough sketch instead of a finished idea. What the set lacked, the lighting only served to highlight. There were characters that sang in the dark. The dark! And not the type of "I am backlighting you dramatically," dark. No, this was "there are a lot of jumbled lights on the stage and I just don't happen to be in any of them," dark. And the spot-lighting was a mess. I spent half the time wondering if the actors had simply missed their marks.