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R. Strauss - Elektra [Blu-ray]
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Tragic Opera in one Act
"Libretto" by Hugo von Hofmannsthal after Sophocles
Wiener Philharmoniker / Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Conductor: Daniele Gatti
Chorus Master: Thomas Lang
Live from the Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg Festival 2010
Die Salzburger Festspiele warteten 2010 mit einer neuen, von Nikolaus Lehnhoff inszenierten Produktion von Richard Strauss Elektra auf, die vom Wiener Kurier als beste neue Opernproduktion des Jahres bezeichnet wurde. Im Mittelpunkt der Oper steht die mythische Frauenfigur Elektra, die nichts weiter im Sinn hat als den Mord an ihrem Vater zu rächen.
Der Rachefeldzug reicht bis zu Mord und Totschlag. Am Ende stehen Selbstbetrug und Selbstzerstörung, die in einem Totentanz kulminieren.
Strauss lernte Hofmannsthals Elektra während einer Theateraufführung in Berlin kennen und erkannte sofort den glänzenden Operntext sowie das enorme musikalische Spannungs-potential für eine Oper. Die düstere Atmosphäre, die ein fester Bestandteil des Stückes ist, findet in der dissonanten, herben und aus gewaltigen Klangblöcken bestehenden Musik ihren Höhepunkt. Die Oper kann alles - entfesseln, berauschen und Akteure wie Zuhörer schlichtweg in Ekstase versetzen.
a triumph for director Nikolaus Lehnhoff and his distinguished cast of singers. --Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Nikolaus Lehnhoffs new production of Elektra ends with a stroke of genius that arrives with a shock. --Financial Times
This is one of the best Elektras available on DVD;and on Blu-ray,it is superb. Performance ***** Picture and Sound ***** BBC MUSIC DVD CHOICE --BBC Music Magazine,Oct'11
This is an Elektra to inspire reflection. --Opera,Aug'11
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So I popped it in very late the other night just to check the audio and video quality. I figured I'd watch for five minutes, tops. Well, Elektra had me at Allein! (Alone!). Her opening line that invokes her murdered father, coupled with her phantom presence, was so compelling I had to stick around just to find out what dark corner of the universe this girl was emerging from and how far her obsession would take her. I watched the whole thing straight through.
If you know the story of Elektra from Greek Tragedy, well, opera doesn't get any more tragic than this. Once the story takes hold of you, look out. But what music Strauss composed! - at times dissonant and unworldly, at other times sublimely beautiful, almost poetic. How the lyrical climax in the recognition scene can be filled with such emotional intensity, and still manage to strike a chord of tenderness is a tribute to Strauss' gift of composition.
An opera like this, in the hands of anything less than a stellar cast and orchestra, would be a disaster. Fortunately a world-class ensemble was put together to meet the challenge of Strauss' masterpiece. The result is a harrowing performance of sheer psychological terror and existentialism. Elektra is one of the most demanding roles in the dramatic soprano repertoire, perhaps on par only with Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung. But where Wagner allows many a moment of quiet repose, Strauss drives the intensity to white-hot levels that never let up. Iréne Theorin delivers a fervent performance with remarkable vocal range. Her high notes are well executed and her voice is always under control, never straining.
The supporting cast is equally strong. Waltraud Meier, the great Wagnerian soprano, delivers a definitive performance as Elektra's mother who is defiant in the face of her nightmarish visions of a fate waiting to strike. (If you like her here, it would be well worth checking out her portrayal of Ortrud in Wagner: Lohengrin [Blu-ray].) Eva-Maria Westbroek, one of the emerging talents of the international stage and who has rightfully claimed ownership of the Walküre Sieglinde, is more than good enough (although slightly miscast) as Elektra's gentle unassuming sister who longs to escape her misery and live a normal life. René Pape plays the relatively small basso part of Elektra's exiled brother who returns for vengeance with efficiency and understatement. He stays within the role and lets his voice perform naturally.
The audio and video in this Blu-ray from Arthaus Musik is excellent. The dts surround track is spacious and full-bodied; the video clear and well framed. Conductor Gatti gives a confident reading of Strauss and the orchestra responds well to the dramatic highs as well as the subtle nuances in the score. Lehnhoff's production, much like with Parsifal, is on the mark. He shows Elektra as an atrophy of human emotion and self-abandonment. She appears as the undead behind a horrific mask of self-destruction. The everything-gray stage of distorted angles and empty holes is seen as a reflection of her psychosis. If you're up for it, this Elektra really delivers.
Unsurprisingly, for a director like Lehnhoff working with such an opera, the stage setting is a reflection of the internal torment of Elektra, fixated as she is on the death of her father Agamemnon and the desire for vengeance against his murderers, her mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. She's waiting on her brother Orestes to exact that vengeance for her, but, hearing of his death from her sister Chrysothemis, she prepares to carry out the foul deed herself. Lehnhoff envisages the tempestuous fluctuations of Elektra's state of mind as a grey barren landscape, undulating and tilted, full of fractures and chasms from which horrors torment her and into which she is about to drop into at any moment. It's reminiscent of his 1999 stage setting for Wagner's Parsifal, forcing one to draw interesting comparisons between Wagner's score for that opera and Strauss', the themes being similar in respect of Elektra in an eternal state of suffering and torment seeking release or purification.
If the stage setting is highly effective in this respect, its impact is somewhat lessened by the lack of wide-shots to take in the whole stage, the filming for television focussing for the most part on close-ups of Iréne Theorin's fixed mask of madness, which is powerful, but limiting and not quite so effective as what is evoked by the stage set as a whole, and by her position alongside the other characters within that space, since Lehnhoff is very considered about the movement and placement of characters in relation to one another. Fortunately, there is much more expressed in this opera through the score and the singing than through the acting, and here Theorin is terrific, cutting an imposing figure vocally and through her physical presence that dictates the whole tone of the piece. Elektra is a notoriously difficult role for a singer, Theorin having to sing pretty much for an hour and a half without break in the one-act opera, and she rises to the challenge, seeming to grow in strength and intensity right up to the devastating conclusion.
The other singers likewise live up to expectations. René Pape, as you would expect is a strong Orestes, even if he lacks the necessary dramatic qualities here. Westbroek sometimes seems to be danger of going a little shrill and harsh, but shows nevertheless fine control and manages to remain a lyrical Chrysothemis, contrasting well with Theorin's Elektra. Theorin is also well-pitted against Waltraud Meier, but sparks don't fly as they might between Elektra and Clytemnestra, the production here finding a sense of deep mutual like-mother-like-daughter recognition in the two figures, both in the nature of their own internal conflict and in the depths that they are prepared to sink to. It's an interesting variation on the mythological relationship, but it doesn't capture the fullest extent of the conflict within of their relationship that is a little more "complex" (sorry!) and expressed with greater precision in the discordance of Richard Strauss' score.
Although it's hard to justify a preference for Linda Watson and Jane Henschel over Theorin and Meier, Watson's acting in particular being limited to the adoption of a haughty expression that is no match whatsoever for the brooding anguish of Theorin's interpretation, the Baden-Baden 2010 production is sung and played terrifically well with a striking staging, and I feel that Christian Thielemann's much more adventurous conducting brings out the dynamism in the opera and an edge that is missing here. That's a personal preference however, just as others might equally prefer the Karl Böhm version, since otherwise there's little to fault about the performances, staging or conducting of this fine production.
Other than the predominance of close-ups, there's little to fault with its presentation on Blu-ray either, the opera looking and sounding terrific in High Definition. Audience applause at the start and bows at the end have been eliminated, and I rather liked the dramatic integrity this gave the opera. Subtitles are in English, French, Spanish and Italian, but no German. Other than trailers for other releases, there are no extra features and only a brief essay and a synopsis in the booklet.