Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Elektra (1909)
Elektra - Iréne Theorin (soprano)
Klytämnestra - Waltraud Meier (mezzo)
Chrysothemis - Eva-Maria Westbroek (soprano)
Aegisth - Robert Gambill (tenor)
Orest - René Pape (bass)
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor/Thomas Lang
Wiener Philharmoniker/Daniele Gatti
Stage director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Stage design: Raimund Bauer
Video director: Thomas Grimm
Picture: 16:9/1080i Full HD
Sound: PCM stereo, DTS-HD Master Surround 5.1
Region: worldwide
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
Menu language: English
rec. live, Großes Festpielhaus, Salzburg, 2010
ARTHAUS MUSIK BLU-RAY 101 560 [109:00]
Strauss operas on Blu-ray are always a cause for celebration, none more so than this live performance from Salzburg. Joining a stellar cast is conductor Daniele Gatti, whose all-too-brief tenure with the Royal Philharmonic suggested a bright future for this talented maestro. And so it proved, for he’s now music director of the Orchestre National de France and chief conductor of the Zurich Opera. Throw in a production directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff and the stage is set for a riveting performance of this blood-dimm’d blockbuster.
The skewed perspectives and crazy angles of Raimund Bauer’s Expressionist-inspired designs - shades of Dr Caligari - make for a bleak and pitiless Mycenae. Blank windows and doors seem interchangeable, the stage floor pocked with shallow pits into which the characters are wont to wander. As for the women, their features are drained of all life and colour. And there’s madness in the air, from Elektra’s first numbed appearance, draping herself with Agamemnon’s coat, to the Greek chorus of maids who cackle and comment like deranged harpies. Indeed, the one servant who defends Elektra is seen doing so from one of those dark hollows, the hands of fellow bedlamites pulling and plucking her back into the pit.
Musically, the opening moments are as arresting as ever, the Wiener Philharmoniker in splendid form. Sonically - in its PCM stereo guise at least - this Blu-ray is top-notch, the sound deep and wide, the balance between singers and orchestra nicely judged. Thomas Grimm’s video direction is sometimes restless but always fluent, the stark close-ups of Iréne Theorin during ’Allein! Weh, ganz allein’ hugely affecting. And for those used to the skull-rattling volume of Birgit Nilsson will surely be impressed by the authority and power of this Elektra, her marrow-freezing cries of ‘Agamemnon!’ just extraordinary. The stereo image loses focus from time to time, but then this is a live performance and these things do happen.
Eva-Maria Westbroek - who premiered the role of Anna Nicole at Covent Garden last February - makes a wide-eyed but utterly believable Crysothemis, quite a task when she’s pitted against the vocal range and dramatic presence of Theorin. The sense of entrapment - actual and metaphorical - is well caught in this confining set, the close camerwork adding to the growing tension as Crysothemis literally bounces off the walls in fear and fright. And goodness, what reserves of power as she demands ‘a woman’s lot’, her voice full and fearless, soaring gloriously above Strauss’s huge orchestra. But the biggest surprise, for me at least, is Waltraud Meier’s affecting, flesh-and-blood portrayal of Klytämnestra. In sequinned gown, bright fur and round, Thirties-style sunglasses she looks uncannily like a deeply wronged Wallis Simpson, unusually vulnerable in ’Was willst du! Seht doch, dort!’ The frequent cutaways to a clearly contemptuous, crooked-smiling Elektra - a kind of Eisensteinian montage, perhaps - adds a sense of dynamism to what is essentially a static and declamatory setting.
Meier continues to impress, ‘Was bluten muß’ particularly thrilling in its intensity and focus. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her on stage, so I’d forgotten just how good an actor she is. That said, Elektra’s apocalyptic tirade, which leaves her mother senseless, is an absolute knock-out, those orchestral convulsions simply hair-rising. The drama flags a little as Elektra insists she and Crysothemis do the deed, the ‘noble, ineffable’ Wagnerian brass that announce Orest a welcome relief after all that female angst. The light-toned bass René Pape, leather-clad, has a quiet presence and purity of line that can’t fail to please, his and Theorin’s transported singing in the recognition scene a high point of the evening.
It always puzzles me why directors expect their singers to deliver such passion and volume while kneeling or supine, but that poses no problems for Theorin. As for Robert Gambill, he makes a plaintive but bullying Aegisth, a Gestapo man sans the armband swastika. In a deft piece of stage business those empty window sockets are made to blaze with light as Aegisth meets his frightful end. And in an opera where Ossa and Pelion can meet all too easily, Gatti builds tension and scales climaxes very well indeed. Elektra, unhinged but ecstatic, is central to the apocalyptic finale, the unexpected images - which I won’t reveal - as stunning as a bolt between the eyes.
As for the orchestra, well they’re peerless in this repertoire, the weight and depth of sound they produce almost superhuman. There’s no applause, just a brief return to the dark susurrations with which the opera began. A relief really, as I always feel dazed by this relentless score. No sign of fatigue among the principals, who sing heroically throughout. And kudos to all the technical teams who contributed to this unforgettable enterprise.
A most welcome addition to the list of operas on Blu-ray.
Dan Morgan  

see also review of DVD release by Simon Thompson

A most welcome addition to the list of operas on Blu-ray.