Aug 24, 2014

Seattle has The Ring, Umeå has Elektra!

I am sitting on the front row on a handicap seat. I am wearing my downhill ski set, gloves, winter shoes and my back isn’t nice to me. In a strained situation like this my focus is usually 80-95% on my body, coping and surviving until it’s over, no matter how much I want to be there. But not this time. I am captivated. All my senses are wide open. I have the eyes and ears of a child. I am watching, no I am a part of Elektra, Norrlandsoperan’s (the Umeå Opera House) performance of the Richard Strauss opera from 1909. 
The Elektra production is a part of the European Capital of Culture 2014, and the venue is a parking lot of what once was a military infantry regiment, now transformed into a business park. I have known about it for months of course, but as it’s my back ruling my life I had very little hope of being able to be there. The week before though, I was thinking it might be possible. And because of Norrlandsoperan’s extreme generosity when it comes to people with physical handicaps, and my friend Agneta as my assistent, on Tuesday evening we folded up my special chair, filled it with cushions and myself and praised the weather gods that they held up with the intense rain for a few hours.
I am thinking while sitting there, do I need to see another opera after this? Can anyone involved in this production feel okay with a regular opera stage ever again? What can possibly, for the audience and everyone on and back this stage, outdo this?
The stage is on the ground, 656 feet long and covered with gravel and water. The opera singers are performing Richard Strauss’ extremely challenging music partly from mechanical giants 20 feet up maneuvered by building cranes while the forest is on fire and blood is rushing in container water falls. 
Elektra is NorrlandsOperan’s biggest production ever. The opera is based on the ancient myth of the woman who will do anything to avenge the murder of her father, King Agamemnon. It’s the Catalan performing arts collective La Fura dels Baus, which global breakthrough came with the staging of the Olympic opening ceremony in Barcelona 1992, that is responsible for the bold and incredible staging.
It’s dark, it’s beautiful, it’s brutal, it’s fiery, it’s huge, it’s electrifying rock and roll from start to finish and it’s absolutely overwhelming and dazing.
There has been five sold-out shows. A total of 10 000 people have seen the performance. Umeå has 118 000 inhabitants and a lot of them didn’t get a ticket. Or couldn’t afford one. And that’s only Umeå.
The reviews have been over the moon, local, national, and international. Trouble & Trouble didn’t get to see it and I can’t believe they never will. And that’s when I come to think about…Seattle.
Seattle has The Ring. Why shouldn’t Umeå have Electra?
The Seattle Opera started the development of Richard Wagner’s epic mastodon piece  The Ring Cycle in 1975, first as an annual event performing one cycle per year. Today The Ring is a every four year recurrent festival taking place in August, giving four performances of every cycle. The most current production, “The Green Ring” was award-winning, inspired by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, unveiled in 2001 to wide acclaim, and revived for sold-out audiences in 2005, 2009 and 2013. 
2013 eager opera fans came to Seattle from all 50 states and 22 countries to hear and see the four operas, creating an economic impact described by a recent Seattle Opera study as $39 million (in ticket sales, travel costs and related expenditures).
Umeå is the European Capital of Culture 2014, and we are doing a good job, much better than anyone (including I dare to say the City organization) thought we would. We have the European eye now, even the eye of the world in some cases. I am saying, let’s keep it!
I don’t think the following years will be a backlash within the cultural arts in Umeå. We might have a slight hangover 2015 which is okay, it will be one of those after a fun inspiring party, you wake up in the morning exhausted but energized. I think Umeå is gaining self confidence and self esteem because we are finding something new out about ourselves and our city. We might be remote, but hey, we are doing it!
Seattle is remote too but is now in competition with Bayreuth when it comes to attracting Ringheads from all over the map. 
Umeå is delivering en masse this year, but Elektra is no doubt about it the absolute peak performance. Thousands and thousands, in Umeå, Sweden, Europe and further away is still to come as an audience of this spectacular art work. Put the majestic mechanic giants Elektra and her dysfunctional family in storage and bring them out another year! As with every event the really hard work is the first one. The second, half the job is done, no even 2/3. 
Until now, Umeå has culturally gone to sleep during the summers. That changed 2014. A Choral Midsummer Light’s Dream - Umeå International Choir Festival was a success on the first try and hopefully it will be a recurrent event. Success is an understatement when it comes to Elektra. Elektra was an electrifying mind-blowing musical and scenic experience that has the potential drawing crowds, opera  and rock and roll fans from all over to Umeå. Make Umeå a cyclic epic opera summer event! Make the building cranes rise Elektra again! And again! And again!

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