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Strauss: Elektra / Varnay, Rysanek, Böhm, Et Al

Strauss / Varnay / Rysanek / Vpo / Bohm
Release Date: 11/08/2005 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 000508209  
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Catarina LigendzaLeonie RysanekAstrid VarnayDietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Conductor:  Karl Böhm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Götz Friedrich's 1981 Elektra film sets Richard Strauss' opera in a dark and dingy abandoned 20th-century factory populated by grungy denizens in psuedo-Greek garb. Elektra herself appears like some deranged homeless woman reeking with sweat and slime (in the rain). And the depravity doesn't stop there. Friedrich plays up the work's sado-masochistic elements, with bloody whippings and an orgy sequence involving nude lesbians bathing themselves in the blood of a sacrificial ram. Now you might think that all of this detracts from the score, but on the contrary, the production matches image to music so brilliantly that anyone seeing this opera for the first time would think they were created for
Read more each other (which allows you to ignore the occasional useless, almost silly gesture, such as the frequent and prolonged shots of Agamemnon's bloodied visage during Elektra's opening monologue).

The performers' lip-synched acting has the riveting expressionistic character of silent film, with emphatic gestures and wide-eyed expressions (Klytämnestra reminds us of the Bride of Frankenstein), but it all works--especially as the singing is marvelous. Leonie Rysanek's Elektra is all big sound and dramatic utterance, and she has the ideal counterweight in Caterina Ligendza's shimmering, passionate Chrysothemis. Astrid Varnay ideally embodies the fearful, bile-spewing Klytämnestra, while Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Orest is a model of burnished-toned nobility.

This proved to be Karl Böhm's last operatic project (he did not even live to see the completed film), and his powerful performance with the Vienna Philharmonic stands as a testament to his mastery of Strauss' challenging score. Video and sound quality are both excellent, and there's even a bonus disc featuring a documentary on the making of the film that shows a frail Böhm barely moving his baton while the orchestra whips up a frenzy. This Elektra is a must-have. [2/20/2006]
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Elektra, Op. 58 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Catarina Ligendza (Soprano), Leonie Rysanek (Soprano), Astrid Varnay (Soprano),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone)
Conductor:  Karl Böhm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; Germany 

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