Notes and Editorial Reviews
Note: This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players, and not compatible with standard DVD players.
Christoph von Dohnányi, cond; Eva Johansson (
); Marjana Lipovšek (
); Melanie Diener (
); Alfred Muff (
); Zurich Op House O & Ch
TDK OPELEK (Blu-ray Disc: 102:00) Live: Zurich 11/30, 12/4/2009
The Zurich opera could be considered by some operaphiles to be the epicenter of the so-called Eurotrash phenomenon. Time after time, new Zurich productions strive mightily to be shocking or new. It is easy and desirable to be different (translated not traditional), but not so simple to do and maintain relevance to the opera’s libretto.
would seem to be an ideal candidate for the Zurich treatment. It has not been known for its gorgeous traditional sets and costumes. At this point, dingy castles are getting old. The director must find a new setting for decadence and depravity. Martin Kušej, not surprisingly, avoids an archaic or traditional framework for his take on
. The basic set is a large empty corridor at center stage, flanked by a series of doors on each side and a pile of lumpy rugs (?) resembling moguls on a ski slope. It is interesting to watch the cast trying mightily to avoid tripping as they navigate the stage. Elektra is a punk dressed in sweat pants and what appears to be a fleece hoody. Her maidservants and some cross-dressing males in the opening scene appear as a group of waitresses or showgirls in miniskirts and fishnet stockings. The lighting dramatically contrasts blacks (the corridor and closed doors) and bright whites from lights shining through the doors when they are open. Chrysothemis’s relatively elegant white gown similarly contrasts with the punky Elektra. Needless to say, there is plenty of gratuitous nudity (which has become the cliché opera directors apply to depict decadence and depravity). Then, the final scene is, almost unbelievably, minimized by the ill-conceived appearance of a group of strutting dancers resembling mummers in fully feathered regalia.
Regardless of what you think of the production, the musical and acting values are, with one major exception, quite outstanding. Eva Johansson gives a searing and sinister performance as Elektra. The close-ups emphasize her penetrating blue eyes to great effect. Johansson is vocally on the edge, struggling for the most part successfully to compete with Strauss’s raging orchestra without making many squally sounds. Melanie Diener (Chrysothemis) manages to remain totally musical and still be heard. Marjana Lipovšek is a bland Klytämnestra (in a silly gown), and her voice is pretty much shot. She simply pales in comparison to the vocal acting of Regina Resnik in the Decca-London Georg Solti recording and the acting of Brigitte Fassbaender with Claudio Abbado, the Vienna Philharmonic, and Éva Marton in their Arthaus DVD (
33:2). The real stars of the show are Christoph von Dohnányi and the amazing Zurich orchestra (playing here near the level of the Vienna Philharmonic). Dohnányi is an eminent Straussian who unfailingly maintains the transparency of the orchestration without sacrificing much power (though he does not achieve the manic intensity of Solti in his Decca-London version). My one complaint is that Dohnányi plays the final crashing chords too quickly.
The Blu-ray picture is critical in this production, as it delineates the omnipresent dark blacks, grays, and dark blues with analytical clarity. The balance between the orchestra and the singers in surround sound is very realistic as it approximates what you would hear in the opera house. That is to say, the orchestra is clearly in front of the singers onstage, and there is no artificial spotlighting of the vocalists that you hear on so many poorly engineered opera recordings. Audio formats are PCM stereo and DTS 7.1 high definition surround sound. Subtitles are in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. The program notes are limited to a short essay on
and this production, plus a plot synopsis and track listing. There are no extras. To sum up, this is still another Zurich production designed to shock (not a bad thing in
), carried by the riveting performance of Johannson, the singing of Diener, the conducting of Dohnányi, and the playing of the Zurich Opera Orchestra. Many will prefer the Harry Kupfer Vienna production with Abbado, Marton, and Fassbaender, because the production more traditionally emphasizes the central importance of Agamemnon. The Solti, Nilsson, Vienna Philharmonic recording remains unsurpassed because of its musical and sonic superiority.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
Picture format: 1080i Full HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 102 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 25) Read less
Works on This Recording
Elektra, Op. 58 by Richard Strauss
Cassandra McConnell (Voice),
Reinhard Mayr (Bass),
Rudolf Schasching (Tenor),
Marjana Lipovsek (Mezzo Soprano),
Eva Johansson (Soprano),
Melanie Diener (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: Zurich Opera House
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