Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Linda Watson (soprano) – Elektra; Jane Henschel (soprano) – Klytämnestra; Manuela Uhl (soprano) – Chrysothemis; René Kollo (tenor) – Aegisth; Albert Dohmen (bass-baritone) – Orest; Andreas Hörl (bass) – Orest’s tutor; Jörg Schneider (tenor) – A young servant; Carsten Sabrowski (bass) – An old servant; Irmgard Vilsmaier (soprano) – An overseer;
Philharmonia Chor Wien, Münchner Philharmoniker/Christian Thielemann
Original stage production: Herbert Wernicke
Restaging Director: Bettina Göschl
Stage adaptation: Frank Kuhlmann, Christoph Lettow
Costume adaptation: Dorothee Melzer
Light adaptation: Felix Kirchhofer, Christian Kass
Video Director: Andreas Morell
rec. live, Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, 29 January, 1, 4 February 2010
Audio formats: LPCM 2.0, DTS Digital Surround
Picture format: 16:9
Extra features: Cast gallery; Making of Elektra
OPUS ARTE OA 1046 D [126:00]
Is there an opera as spine-chilling and heart-rending as Elektra? Maybe there is and if so I haven’t yet seen it. Strauss himself also seems to have seen no way to continue in this direction. Elektra became a dead-end and when he returned from darkness and desperation two years later he had moved to the sunny side of the street – or almost anyway – with the high society comedy Der Rosenkavalier. It was a success and it was this more accessible road that Strauss took during his operatic life – to the dismay of some avant-gardists who had seen the composer as a figure-head of early 20th century modernism. I do have a soft spot for Rosenkavalier and I don’t mind seeing the following operas either but Elektra grabs me by the throat in a way that is abominable but still enticing.
This production, originally created for the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich in 1997, gripped me in the same way as the recent Stockholm production (review) did. And there are similarities, but even more so with the previous Stockholm production, mentioned in the review: sparse sets but evocative lighting, no props. Like the recent Stockholm production red is the symbolic colour – revenge. Yes, there is a staircase and there is a prop: again as in Stockholm Elektra carries an axe, the weapon with which her father Agamemnon was murdered. The lighting isn’t flattering for the characters; facial expressions become grotesque through the black shadows.
Whereas one in the theatre is fairly distanced from the action – though in Stockholm one felt drawn into it by the surge of the music and the acting – in this video realization Andreas Morell works very much with close-ups and thus automatically one is caught in the middle of the proceedings. There is always a risk that the video producer wants to point out something else than I want to see, but in so concentrated a drama as Elektra there are mostly clear-cut choices and one is –like it or not – caught from the outset. It says a lot, however, for the magic of the Stockholm production, that even in a seat fifteen metres from the stage one felt totally engulfed by the action.
The singing in Stockholm in mid-December 2009 was terrific and here in Baden-Baden just a month and a half later the vocal quality is hardly less impressive. Linda Watson has for the last decade been one of the leading sopranos in the hochdramatische Fach and she is formidable. Intense, fearless, brilliant. Jane Henschel’s Klytämnestra is another superb singing-actor, insinuating and sarcastic. And she sings with a golden tone that totally belies her age. Manuela Uhl has also made Chrysothemis something of a speciality, singing with silvery yet intense tone. Albert Dohmen, one of the foremost exponents of Wotan, may look more like a bank clerk than a Greek hero in his black suit, but he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and he sings powerfully. It is uplifting to find that René Kollo, well past seventy, has retained so much of his voice, considering all the exhausting Wagner roles he has been singing for so many years. His Aegisth is a jovial character in white dinner-jacket. It seems, in other words, that the men in this production are in present time while the women remain in ancient times. The symbolism in this contradiction eludes me – but no matter: this is a terrific Elektra, conducted with the required intensity by Christian Thielemann. I will without doubt return to it again for pleasure – well, pleasure is not really the proper word for Elektra, but you see what I mean – and that’s recommendation enough. But I wish the Stockholm production could be issued as well.
I will, without doubt, return to this again for pleasure – well, pleasure is not really the proper word for Elektra, but you see what I mean – and that’s recommendation enough.