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Strauss, Elektra :
Soloists and Orchestra of Istanbul State Opera, Alexandru Samoila (conductor) Istanbul, Turkey 21.02.2007 (MiE)



Sacrifice scene (Neun Dienernen und Magden)

The February 20, 2007, Istanbul première of Elektra, ninety-eight years after the Dresden original production, was preceded by a mixture of intrigue and trepidation by singers, orchestra, and audience alike.  For a company whose closest repertoire to atonality heretofore had been Janácek, whose most difficult orchestral challenges had been found in West Side Story, Strauss’s psychological masterpiece provided a formidable challenge whose surmountability was by no means guaranteed.   With the Gala Opening on Tuesday night a bona fide success, and with its (in some ways) even more successful pre-opening on Saturday, the creators of this production can be congratulated for having brought the Istanbul State Opera a significant step forward--both chronologically in terms of repertoire, and artistically towards meeting its goal of one day having a company whose productions can be compared to those of major houses in Europe.  The company still has a way to go in this respect (the main obstacles to this being its employment system which basically prohibits bringing in artists from outside the company for specific roles, and its restricted budget).   But what it has achieved with Elektra is to offer a lucid, orchestrally inspired reading which imparts the essence of the work at hand.

Jaklin Çarkçi (Elektra)(right) Burçin Çilinger (Chrysothemis)(left)

Amidst the profusion of surface details that marks Strauss’s dramatic, leitmotivic, and rapidly shifting tonal language, this production manages to bring out the powerful, underlying psychological shape of the work. The moment in which Elektra falls to the stage after Aegisth has been disposed of-her vengeful mission completed-has the effect of a true epiphany, an enormous release of over ninety minutes of tension leading up to that point.    If the Gala opening’s Elektra (Sema Tüzün) was effective in this respect, Saturday’s pre-opener with Jaklin Çarkçı was utterly convincing.  Ms. Çarkçı’s acting, timing and expressiveness in the role was superb. Taken together with a very solid, well-intoned vocal performance (in which the sometime mezzo wisely took a few high notes down an octave), her character--who, one realizes at the end of the two hours, has been onstage the entire time—elicited genuine emotion and sympathy.  This is by no means a given in this murderous role.   Ms. Çarkçı is a shade softer than some other Elektras have been, but the more effective because of it.

Lynn T. Çaglar(Klytamnestra) Aytaç Kahyaoglu (Die Vertraute), Ela Gürten (Die Schlepptragerin)

Ayse Sezerman, as the more domestically minded Chrysothemis in the Gala performance, was superb, her voice more than equal to what is perhaps vocally the most difficult part in the work, although any dramatic reaction to the lesbian-like advances of her sister were non-existent.  Lynn T. Çaglar was a superbly convincing Klytämnestra, most especially in her initial entrance, where the sense of incestuous horror and dementia so important for the work found its vocal manifestation most palpably in Ms. Çaglar’s venomous, slow portamento and deliciously spat-out German consonants.   While powerful in voice, and not lacking in pronunciation, Önay Günay as Orestes somehow was unable to give the character quite the presence its Wagneresque musical setting demands, possibly because of his seeming refusal to really sustain tones, coupled with a tendency towards overacting. On the other hand, after a shaky opening Saturday, in Tuesday’s Gala the maids in the opening scene, led by Arzu Bozkürt and Yeliz Çelikkol, were clear, in tune, and incisive in their German pronunciation.

Sema Tüzün (Elektra) Ahmet Öncül (Orestes) Gökçe Senyüz (Der Pfleger)

In supporting the broad, quasi arch-form of Strauss’s music and Hoffmannsthal’s unmatched long-range dramatic crescendo, the staging of Aytaç Manizade is simple and effective. Elektra’s stillness at the beginning sets up consequent picturesque, refreshing shifts in use of the horizontal and up-and-downstage dimensions of the luminous, well-proportioned staging area (Öncel Kandemir).  The timing, directness and speed of the background entrances of Klytämnestra's stilettoed attendants and blue-robed priests marching through on the way to sacrifice, as Chrysothemis pleads to Elektra to flee, is quite powerful.  The kinkiness of Klytämnestra's trainbearers' and maids’ costumes (Aysegül Alev) fittingly emphasize the devolution of sexual impulses through derangement into violence-a significant aspect of Hoffmannsthal’s libretto, borne out by the nihilism of Strauss’s polychords, teetering tonality and his bizarre inclusion of waltzes within such a context.   If Elektra has ‘unsexed’ herself to revenge her father, as commentators have written (“I’m feeding a vulture in my body”) then Klytämnestra, Aegisth and her palace are sexuality perversified.   While every moment was not equally effective dramatically (surface violence tended to be utterly unrealistic), the large picture was well reinforced with appropriate symbols—allowing one to absorb better the genius of Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s large-scale formal sense.  The orchestra’s role in building up climaxes in the sacrifice scene and through the entire sequence with Orestes is crucial to this, and these were powerfully realized under the direction of conductor Alexandru Samoila.  Indeed, the orchestra played the performance of its life.

Preparation of this production was notably aided by guest corépétiteurs (Met Assistant conductor) David Jackson and Peter Valentovic, and reportedly music was given to the musicians months in advance of the première.  Such preparation, it is clear, pays off.   With now three impressive new productions in the past two years, Macbeth, Otello and Elektra, as well as its inclusion of new works by Turkish composers, the new Istanbul State Opera seems to be heading in the right direction.   As standards continue to rise, and audiences correspondingly delight in new productions, the horizon appears bright for opera in Istanbul.


© Michael Ellison


Pictures © Istanbul State Opera

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Contributors: Contributors: Marc Bridle, Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling,  Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, John Leeman, Sue Loder,Jean Martin, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas,Alex Verney-Elliott,Raymond J Walker, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)