R. Strauss: Elektra

Album cover art for upc 807280155990
Label: ARTH
Catalog: 101559
Format: DVD

THEORIN; MEIER; WESTBROEK; GAMBILL; PAPE; WIENER PHILHARMONIKER; KONZERTVEREINIGUNG WIENER STAATSOPERNCHOR; GATTI; LEHNH

This Elektra should be used as a textbook example of how to bring contemporary relevance to an opera without disfiguring it to the point where it becomes wholly unrecognizable. I found the set design to be an amazing and equally imposing creation; an askew, industrial gray cube with rectangular windows spread across two walls, with asymmetrical doorways all framing a raked and tilted courtyard, dotted with potholes and an entrance to a subterranean portion of the palace, more German expressionism than antiquity but it all works superbly. History (and Sophocles, of course) tells us that Elektra takes place in ancient Greece; however, this production has a certain ambiguity with respect to the time and place in which the drama unfolds but that doesn't take away one bit from the overall effect. Yes, Aegisth strolls in wearing a three piece suit reminiscent of William Powell's Nick Charles, Klytemnestra in a dark fuchsia sequined evening gown and coat and her minions resembling members of some Nazi party organization, in tapered and austerely tailored garments in light gray with short finger wave hairdos and dark red lips. One would think that these costumes contrasted with Elektra's black frock, bare feet and pale face would prove jarring but it definitely works; an effective contrast between debauched opulence and wretched squalor. Somehow, it just all seems correct. I'm not a huge fan of so called "modern/ contemporary" productions, let alone Regietheatre that manage to eviscerate the composer's intent and vision, but admit that oftentimes, they can be powerful and that's certainly the case with this Elektra, even though the costumes are really the only thing with which the director has taken liberties, some other smaller details notwithstanding. The narrative is straightforward, blessedly free of pretentious, conceptual ideas and duly honors both Strauss and von Hofmannsthal original creation. On to the performances! Irene Theorin's Elektra is first rate; a consummate actress with the vocal resources to deliver the goods and deliver she does with seemingly endless reserves. Although she may lack Nilsson's laser-like voice, hers is far warmer, more akin to Borkh and Behrens. Her Elektra is a frightened animal - frenzied and nervous. Murderous intent has overwhelmed her completely and she is steadfast in her determination but the frailty and sadness that courses through her are very much evident. The intensity in her performance never lags. Westbroek's Chrysothemis is beautifully rendered and she is an equal vocal match to Theorin. However, her acting style is oftentimes of the stand-and-deliver variety but she does, occasionally, delve into deeper characterization. Waltraud Meier's Klytemnestra is phenomenal. Yes, the voice isn't as plush as it was but it's still in remarkable shape and she offers an earnest and profoundly moving portrait of the ambitious and tyrannical queen plagued by nightmares and a sense of encroaching dread. This Klytemnestra is more terrified and vulnerable than she is selfish and cruel. I'm a big fan of Pape and primarily bought this DVD for his Orest and, of course, I wasn't disappointed. Although, at first, he seemed a little hesitant and the voice somewhat under projected, he quickly gained a foothold and from then on it was full steam ahead. As the cowardly Aegisth, Robert Gambill was excellent, his voice firmly placed and with a warm roundness that I normally don't associate with the typical heldentenor voice. This was one of the few times that I was sorry that the role is so small and appears so late in the opera. The comprimario roles were all sung more than capably, not a weak link anywhere in this cast. Gatti conducts the Vienna Philharmonic with verve and attention to detail. He may not lead a frenzied and rambunctious type of performance but he has clear insight into the work and the nervous tension never wanes but the recognition scene was especially nuanced and beautiful. After the Met's Behrens/Levine production from 1994 (sadly unavailable as a single item but part of the Levine anniversary box set), this is my favorite production of Elektra. ~ wolfgang731

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