Notes and Editorial Reviews
R. STRAUSS Elektra • Christoph von Dohnányi, cond; Eva Johansson (Elektra); Marjana Lipovšek (Klytämnestra); Melanie Diener (Chrysothemis); Rudolf Schasching (Aegisth); Alfred Muff (Orest); et al; Zürich Op O & Ch • TDK OPELEK (DVD: 102:00) Live: Zürich 11/30, 12/4/2005
Elektra is, I can say without any hesitation, the most progressive work Strauss ever wrote. Never before had he reached such forward-looking modernity—nor did he ever attain similar heights of psychological intensity and complexity in later days. Elektra is Strauss’s first collaboration with the Austrian librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It would prove to be the beginning of a successful partnership, similar to that of Da Ponte and
Mozart some 120 years earlier.
Somewhere on the Internet I read a review of this performance calling the whole production “Euro-trash.” I don’t really understand what is meant by that, but I assume the writer was shocked by the direct, Kafkaesque staging and the considerable amount of nudity on stage. Living in Europe myself, I’m not familiar with opera performances in the US, but one can hardly call this exemplary performance trash. On the contrary, it’s a very lively and interesting concept.
The scene consists of an open space in the middle of the stage, surrounded by a number of doors through which the singers come and go. The colors are very stark, with a great amount of white and black. The atmosphere is unearthly and decadent. On the whole, this works very well to signify the decaying world around Elektra.
The cast is very strong. Eva Johansson is stunning as Elektra. With her penetrating blue eyes, her presence is simply frightening. Her singing is clear, convincing, and mature. Her strong personality makes her one of the most intriguing Elektra’s of her time. Marjana Lipovšek is a singer I’ve always adored in almost everything she did on stage. Her Klytämnestra is good, albeit at times a bit pale. Her costume looks pretty awful, too. Melanie Diener and Rudolf Schasching are never less than marvelous as Chrysothemis and Aegisth. The rest of the cast is always of similar brilliancy.
The orchestral requirements for this opera are enormous: a huge string section, together with extensive wind and percussion sections. Considering Strauss’s use of orchestral colors, their performance is crucial throughout the opera. No one could paint with an orchestra the way Strauss did. Thus, it’s important to organize a group of fine players who can handle the job—and they sure found one. The Zurich Opera orchestra plays phenomenally. The strings are warm, but attentive to Dohnányi’s brisk way of conducting. The winds produce organic and full-bodied, sustaining sound.
Although this is a great Elektra, Karl Böhm’s recording on DG with Leonie Rysanek and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau remains a favorite. Made only a few months before his death, it offers more gripping and compelling singing and acting. And Giuseppe Sinopoli’s audio recording on DG is a performance I personally cherish. Although Alessandra Marc is not the best Elektra on disc, the performance as a whole is extremely good. Sinopoli’s conducting and the gorgeous playing of the Vienna Philharmonic are particular reasons to acquire this recording.
TDK’s may not be the very best Elektra available on the market, but it’s a very fascinating one, despite some controversies.
FANFARE: Bart Verhaeghe
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (All Region)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Running time: 102 mins
Works on This Recording
Elektra, Op. 58 by Richard Strauss
Rudolf Schasching (Tenor),
Marjana Lipovsek (Mezzo Soprano),
Melanie Diener (Soprano),
Eva Johansson (Soprano),
Alfred Muff (Bass)
Christoph von Dohnányi
Zurich Opera House Orchestra,
Zurich Opera House Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1906-1908; Germany
Date of Recording: 2005
Venue: Opernhaus Zürich
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