A really wonderful Elektra, especially for one of the finest Klytamnestras I have ever heard or seen
Elektra is one of my favourite Strauss operas. The music is not the lushly orchestrated scores you find for Der Rosenkavalier, Capriccio and also Ariadne Auf Naxos, but more dissonant and brutal. Considering the story though, this approach is absolutely necessary and it is, while taking some time to get used to, really atmospherically compelling stuff. I have seen some exceptional performances of the opera, the 1981 Gotz Friederich film, the 1994 Met and 1989 Harry Kupfer, and this one from Hamburg is up there with them I feel.
The production values are first class, managing to be both opulent and atmospheric. I especially loved the large and beautifully decorated doors. It was a change from seeing it in post-apocalyptic style and Elektra and Chrysothemis dressed as the equivalent of bag ladies. The camera work is also above acceptable, especially in the big scene between Elektra and Klytamnestra there are some good close-ups without overly-intruding. The colour is not garish or over-saturated nor is it too washed-out or dull.
From a musical point of view, the performance is also good. One would wish the sound quality was sharper, but the orchestra do do justice to the hugely-orchestrated score from Strauss, with the brass not too fatigued by Elektra's death dance. Leopold Ludwig's conducting doesn't quite benefit from Karl Bohm's expertise, but is both firm and sensitive to his singers with well-judged choices of tempo. Klytamnestra's monologue is just right.
As for the singing, there is very little to fault actually. Across the board the diction is clear and incisive, the singing sailing over the orchestra with ease yet allowing for nuances also and the acting shows great depth and deal to characterisation. Helmut Melchert hasn't got the most interesting role of the opera, in fact of the five principal roles he's admittedly always been the one that has had the least impression on me(for me it's Klytamnestra that stays in the memory long after the opera is finished). Melchert does possess a strong voice and is a convincing conspirator and such to Klytamnestra. His death scream is horrifying as it should.
Gladys Kuchta does rather well with Elektra. Elektra has always been considered a notoriously taxing role on a soprano, Birgit Nilsson had been a legendary Isolde, Brunnhilde and Turandot and she considered Elektra the most difficult role she ever did apparently, but while I consider her voice more suitable for Chrysothemis Kuchta does a splendid job. Her voice is powerful with high notes that are well-pitched and secure, yet with few moments of sensitivity the role gives her she does it. Her acting is commanding and sometimes chilling as well.
Ingrid Bjoner is a mellifluous Chrysothemis, the more sympathetic somewhat of the sisters. Her singing is not too shrill in the upper register, like I have heard from some sopranos in the role, and the rest of her voice is very attractive in tone. She also shapes it with her usual intelligence. Hans Sotin is one of the better Orestes I know of. He sings with great warmth and sonority, that was apparent in roles like Gurnemanz, Landgraf and Sarastro, and is suitably authoritative and vengeful.
Regina Resnik was the crowning jewel of this Elektra. Her Klytamnestra is quite simply put a revelation, as much as I do love Brigitte Fassbaender and Waltraud Meier, Resnik is second only to the personification of evil that is Astrid Varnay in this role. She sings superbly with some of the most incredible colouring of words I have heard from anybody in this role, showing a lot of menace even by listening to her alone. Her monologue is haunting as it ought to be. But it was her acting that made her Klytamnestra really memorable. Right from her death scream, her unique manic laugh to her rictus-like movements, Resnik is just spine-chilling to watch.
All in all, wonderful especially for Resnik's Klytamnestra. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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