ELEKTRA by Richard Strauss
Few sopranos possess the platinum lung power (steel is just not good enough) and the acting ability to handle Strauss’s Elektra. The performance is in effect an extended Mad Scene. The somewhat unhinged daughter of Agamemnon has been discarded from the royal household where her mother Clytemnestra and her new husband Aigisthus hold court. Her father was brutally murdered by Clytemnestra after his return from Troy with his concubine Cassandra. The soprano who can handle the role is Nina Stemme.
The opera opens in the courtyard of the palace where some servants are throwing chickenfeed and filling buckets of water. Another servant is sweeping the steps. It is an ordinary scene that we need to absorb until Elektra steps on the stage. What does the director for cinema Gary Halvorson do? He zeroes in on these meaningless activities as if we need close-ups of the servants and what they are feeding the chickens. This is ridiculous. We need to see the whole tableau before we observe the daughter of the great Agamemnon dressed basically in rags staring at us, clearly disturbed.
Stemme dominates the opera from the beginning as the dispossessed and bitter woman, through to her encounters with her haunted mother, to her hope for the return of her brother Orestes and her triumphal dance upon the murder of Clytemnestra and her Lover Aigisthus.
It is s searing and towering performance. We see her madness in her eyes, her face, and hear it in her voice that cascades towards us with power and amplitude.
Adrianne Pieczonka has a smaller role as Elektra’s sister Chrysothemis but she does not back off from delivering a similarly powerful performance.
Waltraud Meier as Clytemnestra is a slim and attractive as the woman who got a lover while her husband was at war in Troy and murdered him on his return. She is haunted and terrified of the consequences. She knows that if her son Orestes returns he will likely wreak vengeance on her and her lover. Meier shows us Clytemnestra trying to deal with all her ghosts while attempting to maintain her outward assurance. Again an astounding performance.
Eric Owens with his rumbling bass voice is the avenging Orestes. His fine voice stands him well but Owens lacks the vengeance and wrath required of Orestes. He is a nice guy not a retributive son.
Patrice Chereau first staged this production in 2013 at Aix-en-Provence. It is dome on a bare set consisting of a grand arch serving as the entrance to the palace and little else on the stage. There is a hole in which Elektra crawls and the modern ragamuffin costumes of the servants are appropriate without for his view of the opera.
Strauss’s music in all its power is delivered by The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen. The emphasis of the production and the performance is Elektra and with Stemme the in the title role the performance simply epochal.
Opera at its best
Elektra by Richard Strauss was shown Live in HD on April 30 and broadcast again on June 11, 2016 at select Cineplex Cinemas. www.cineplex.com/events