'Elektra' is one of Strauss' best operas, it is hard not to be fascinated by the incredibly dramatic intense story and the thematically interesting story, the character relationships (the heart of the opera relationship being between Elektra and Chysothemis but the recognition scene and confrontation between Elektra and Klytamnestra that make even more impact. The music is perhaps not for all tastes but to me it's fantastic, musically complex but has so much musical and dramatic power.
This 2013 Patrice Chereau (rest in peace)-directed production was critically acclaimed and no wonder. It is an incredibly powerful 'Elektra' that leaves one utterly transfixed from minute one all the way through to the end. Saw the recent Met production first, which that production is a revival of this, hence some reiteration and that is every bit as good. Though this production has the far better Aegisth and Elektra's death dance actually feels like one and gels with the increasing soaring but demented intensity of the music.
Generally, 'Elektra' is very well served on DVD and on record. For me, this is among the better DVD productions, deserving of a DVD that wasn't so darkly lit and had comprehensible subtitles. My only fault actually with the production itself is that there could have been a little more dramatic meat to Mikhail Petrenko's acting in the more vengeful latter parts of the role, where he seemed almost too reluctant at first rather than being equal in his thirst. Petrenko does sing the role very well with that being said.
Not everybody is going to like the set (considering the story of the opera there is no issue here), but the grim oppressiveness fits the story and the late Patrice Chereau's concept more than ideally. Though because the sets are very big it's not as claustrophobic as other productions available on DVD of the opera (not a criticism). The stage direction is ceaselessly compelling, especially in the nightmare and recognition scenes, both of which sear in intensity. Elektra's madness, thirst for vengeance and appearance were quite frightening and the death dance fierce. The lighting is atmospheric and the costumes are appropriate, again within the story of the opera and the concept of the production.
Video directing is expansive yet intimate. The sound is very well-balanced and resonant, which allows one to properly enjoy the booming thrill and nuance of the music.
Musically, it is an outstanding performance. The orchestra, bigger than usual due to the orchestration being large, play with such lushness and ferocious power and they are wonderfully rich in texture too. Every intricacy and nuance of the music is brought out by Esa-Pekka Salonen's incisive but also accommodating conducting, the tension is all there but so is the space. The offstage chorus is very beautifully sung, and the serving women are engaging if intriguingly cast (the close up of the tear-filled eyes of the Fifth Maid is very telling).
As Elektra, Evelyn Herlitzius is as fearless as they come, the voice is hefty yet with some nuances, her attention to the text and music is impeccable and her stage presence is electrifying in every ounce of Elektra's complexity. Adrianne Pieczonka gives her incredibly strong, more grounded, more moral-compass support as sister Chrysothemis, there may be more vocally mellifluous Crysothemis' about but Pieczonka still sings beautifully (especially in her very telling "Ich kann nicht sitzen") and is a very dramatically persuasive actress.
Waltraud Meier, in my opinion one of the greatest singing actresses of the opera stage in the past 30 years, is a superb Klytamnestra. Even if the voice doesn't quite have the beauty and freshness that it did earlier in her career she still sounds incredibly impressive for 57. There is a blooming richness still and her musicianship and very individual word colouring as ever is impeccable. It was also refreshing to see a more tortured, wounded-by-her-past Klytamnestra than the very heavily made up and costumed villain as typically portrayed, and considering the nightmare scene it worked brilliantly and it gave the role more colour, though one still remembers that she is a villain from Meier's spine-tingling entrance alone.
With Tom Randle, here is finally an Aegisth that actually sings the music rather than straining, hectoring or shouting in it. Strauss vocally was never kind to his tenors and a lot of the time the tenor roles were handled thanklessly dramatically. Randle doesn't sound taxed and makes a huge amount out of little, the discovery of Klytamnestra's body has rarely been acted as memorably as here with striking little things. Petrenko sings Orest very well and handles the recognition scene with a strong presence, just wish he was more bloodthirsty later.
In summary, powerfully transfixing production. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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