Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs first remembers being hooked on opera at the age of nine, crediting the “beautiful combination of music, ridiculously fabulous stories, and completely over the top drama.”
Since her world debut as a schoolgirl in Carmen, she’s played plenty of famous theatrical songbirds on operatic stages throughout the world. She credits her Canadian debut as the lead role for Edmonton Opera’s production of Elektra as one of the most ludicrous (and fun) to portray.
Based on an ancient Greek myth, Elektra tells a haunting tale of a young princess’ descent into madness, brought on by the murder of her father, King Agememnon, by her mother, Klytaemnestra. Overcome with desire to avenge her father—perhaps motivated by an incestuous, romantic love for him that coined the psychoanalytic term “the Electra complex”—Elektra will stop at nothing to shed her mother’s blood.
But amidst the brutality, Richard Strauss’ stunning score paired with Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s clever German libretto transforms the tragedy into a black comedy through a blaze of musical beauty.
“It’s got this strange kind of demented quality, because there are moments of just gorgeous overall Strauss music, and then there’s these creepy waltzes that happen in moments of irony. It’s kind of fun,” laughs Blancke-Biggs. “It’s gothic in a way.”
Having also played the title role in Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot in Oslo, Norway this past spring, Blancke-Biggs is familiar with interpreting ruthless characters. But Strauss’ dynamic melodies allow her more freedom to show erratic emotions with tones that aren’t conventionally perfect.
“There’s a lot of vocal demands that aren’t the same as in a Puccini opera where you just have to sound beautiful,” she says. “In this you can change the voice, so it really makes a beautiful example of the characters’ unsettled minds, because she’s very high and then she’s very low. The fact that it’s not always beautiful tones makes it really effective musically.”
While the production may not fit into her more cheerful impression of opera as being “ridiculously fabulous,” she describes it as nothing short of “horrendously wonderful.” Whereas even Turandot has a happy(ish) ending, there’s no such catharsis for the characters of Elektra. To Blancke-Biggs, this doesn’t stop the show from being enjoyable and understandable to actors and audience members alike. It shines light on the insanity of humanity, albeit at more extreme heights.
“There’s just nobody more fun than a crazy Greek lady,” she reports. “I mean, all families are dysfunctional, but this one is just so dysfunctional – it’s like dysfunctional on crack – it’s really burning.”
And burning up the stage is what she plans to do, as opera’s most deranged, axe-wielding leading lady. Her first time working in Canada’s tundra, Blancke-Biggs aims to ignite the stage with catastrophe, humour, and song.
“I’m really excited to make my Canadian debut singing one of my favourite crazy girls,” she says. “It’s always fun to make a big noise. I’m not sneaking in.”
Mar. 11, 14 & 16
Jubilee Auditorium, From $40