Orkestra Sinfonikoa. Coro de Ópera de
Bilbao,Conductor: Juanjo Mena, Palacio
Euskalduna de Bilbao,
New Production ABAO.
Director: Michal Znaniecki.
Stage: Luigi Scoglio.
Costumes: Zosia Dojwat.
Lighting: Boguslaw Palewicz.
Production of Royal Opera Copnehague.
Director: Peter Konwitschny
Stage & Costumes: J.Joachim Schlieker.
Lighting: Manfred Voss.
Judith: Ildiko Komlosi
Chrysothemis: Angela Denoke
Klytämnestra: Reinhild Runkel
Orest: Alan Held
Aeghisth: David Kuebler
The Asociación Bilbaina de Amigos de la Ópera (ABAO)
is one of oldest 'Friends Associations' in Spain,
maintaining one of the most prestigious opera
seasons in the country. ABAO history has seen
all the great voices of the last 50 years perform
in their productions, including Maria Callas and
Luciano Pavarotti who sang seven different
opera titles there in the 70s. ABAO has always
maintained the quality of its vocalists, and has
improved the quality of both
productions and conductors in the past few
years and has also opened up repertoire,
which until the 80s was based exclusively on
Italian and French opera.
With this attractive and unusual double bill,
ABAO opened its 56th opera season to a
crowded theatre-auditorium filled with
almost 2,200 spectators. This was one of the very
rare occasions when it has been possible to
attend a performance of Richard Strauss’s
Elektra in a double bill program, as
happened with Salomé, offered
together with Erwartung some three years
ago. Next November Berlin Deutsche Oper will do
the same thing, offering Elektra with Vittorio
Gnecchi’s Cassandra. The Bilbao the
program needed no more than one
additional singer (Judith), since musical
requirements were very similar, as were the
additional production costs. Budgets were
manageable given that the performance hardly
lasted juts over 3 hours and a quarter, including
an interval of 25 minutes.
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The work of Znaniecki in the Bartok was very
interesting. The action takes place in the front
part of the stage, with a wall at the back,
showing the seven lifting doors by means of an
outstanding use of the lights. Znaniecki conceives
the protagonists as residents in a mental
hospital which given the text was an interesting
idea, very well developed. The direction of actors
was good, very much at the service of the music and text
and in summary this was an imaginative
production from a very promising young director,
as many of us realized from his Cyrano de
Bergerac in Valencia last season.
Peter Konwitschny made his debut in Bilbao with
this production of Elektra and once more
he achieved his usual goal of provoking the
public. He earned a sonorous and unanimous booing
at his final bow, which no doubt made him very
happy. The action was moved to modern times
with Elektra dressed in jeans and with a stage
showing a large room with bright walls and modern
furniture. The direction was as good as one
can expect from this artist whose
problem seems to be his eagerness for
personal prominence, as has been proved so many
times before. How could we forget his
Don Carlos in Vienna and Barcelona or his
Holländer in Munich?
His personal (and problematic) contributions to
this production were threefold. First, in
the long initial scene (before the orchestra
starts) he presents Agamenón to us
with three small children in a bathtub, until he
is assassinated in the presence of them all by
Klytämnestra and Aegisth. The idea is not
bad at all, but it lasted for more than ten
minutes and the public started to show their
impatience. Somebody should have said to
Konwitschny that the idea was intrinsically good,
and if kept short, twice as good.
In second place, Konwitschny makes a lesbian and
incestuous show in the scene of Elektra begging to
her sister to help her to kill their mother.
Finally, the last ten minutes of the opera consist
of a fireworks celebration with machine guns
shooting noisily (music suffers) at everything
that already on stage in a feast of wild
violence, as if this opera did not have enough
already. But the most serious problem from my
point of view was the murder scene with policemen,
dressed in the uniforms of Basque and city police,
and one or two nuns. Evidently, in Stuttgart and
Copenhagen these police don't exist, which meant
that Konwitschny had served up some
real provocation “ad hoc”, to a country suffering
of extreme violence for the last 40 years with
many victims among the police force itself. If we
add the back projection of phrases such as “Viva
el odio” or “Cheer the hate” it was only to
be expected that the public reacted with dislike
and anger. Modernity is one thing but having the
public upset as they leave the theatre is
something else entirely.
Juanjo Mena however is one of the most promising
conductors in the Spanish musical panorama at the
moment and I know that he accepted the invitation
to conduct this double bill as a real personal
challenge. He excelled in the Bartok, and while
more irregular in the Strauss, his reading was
still a good one. His orchestra lacked something
in Elektra, particularly in the strings.
In vocal terms, this was a feast of female
singing. Janice Baird showed once again that she
is a magnificent actress-singer. She made a very
convincing Elektra, full of power and Angela
Denoke was a perfect Chrysothemis right through
the opera - a great singer and an tremendous
actress. No problems either with the
Klytämnestra of Reinhild Runkel. She was
powerful, most suitable for the part and an
outstanding interpreter. The Hungarian, Ildiko
Komlosi was a Judith difficult to match. Vocally
the role presents her with no difficulties
allowing her to show a voice of high quality
and good and convincing interpretation.
Alan Held was both Bluebeard and Orest and was
outstanding, particularly in the Bartok. David
Kuebler was a very suitable Aegisth.
The public in Bilbao has always been rather cool,
but polite. After this Elektra things will
probably never be the same again, at least with
directors. That is not necessarily bad.
Jose M. Irurzun