Doesn't chill the blood as much as one would like, but still has many impressive things about it
When it comes to Strauss operas, my favourite is Der Rosenkavalier, though Elektra is definitely in the top 5 with Rosenkavalier, Salome, Ariadne Auf Naxos and Die Frau Ohne Schatten(Capriccio has a lot of interest value also). What I love about Elektra is its searing and unrelenting orchestration, the notoriously taxing role of Elektra, the evil but at the same time tormented Klytamnestra and the compelling brutality of the story. For recordings, Solti's is legendary, for productions the best available is the Gotz Friederich film with Rysanek, Varnay and Fischer-Dieskau with Bohm conducting. The Nilsson, Marton and Behrens performances are also noteworthy, and Eva Johansson and Irene Theorin's are worth the look.
Also if you haven't heard Regina Resnik's Klytamnestra, do so, it is brilliant and in my eyes very close to definitive alongside Astrid Varnay and Brigitte Fassbaender. Mignon Dunn and in recent years Waltraud Meier are superb too.
I don't consider this Baden-Baden Elektra to be in the same league. It still has impressive things sure, but whereas my blood chilled watching the Friederich film and the Met Nilsson performance in particular I didn't quite get that entire effect here. What I did find problematic were quite a few things. The staging has some compelling moments, the mother-daughter confrontation is superbly acted by Watson and Henschel, but a lot of it, and this is including the recognition scene, where I felt as though I was watching a concert performance. For Elektra, that didn't feel right at all to me. It severely dilutes the drama and tension and maybe also Elektra's motivations, often she comes across as too much of a spoilt bitch and not much else.
Rene Kollo is well past his best as well. He did good performances in the 70s and 80s, but even as far as 1993 or so I detected some wear in his voice. Here his voice is very thin and reedy so much so a vast majority of the time he cannot be heard over the orchestra. He is also rather stiff as well. I was mixed on the Orest of Albert Dohmann. No doubt he has the notes and they are nice and mellifluous, but while not as problematic as his Wotan maybe his voice was too small and perhaps too "pleasant" for a very vengeful sort of character like Orestes. Much of the time, he is also very unemotional and not all that motivated, a large part of why the recognition scene fell flat for me.
Christian Thielmann's conducting is on the most part authoritative and very musical, showing signs of an understanding of Strauss' rhythms and rich orchestral detail, but there are occasions where it is a little too square and even on the overly-aggressive side as well. This is a matter of preference though, because actually I was impressed with his work. However, despite these problems as said there are things to like. Some people will complain about the starkness of the production values. I'm actually not going to, seeing as Elektra is such a dark and brutal opera any production that is stark in look fits very well with the mood. I wasn't the biggest fan of the costumes but I have seen much worse, if there was an exception the red and gold train to symbolise Klytamnestra's power and a reminder to us about her murderous actions and what was to come was very effective. The video directing and sound are excellent.
The orchestral playing I cannot fault. The orchestration is gigantic, and the orchestra are literally pushed to their limits without falling into fatigue too early. The brass literally smash out much of their chords, and the demented waltz-like rhythms are played with much character. Even if the men underwhelmed I found the three leads to be terrific. Before I mention the virtues of their performances, I almost forgot to mention that there was a staging touch I did like, which was in Klytamnestra's murder Chrysothemis removes her mother's finery(the baubles and beads and such), pretty much taking her place, which I found very clever.
Manuela Uhl is a solid Chrysothemis. Okay she does have a tendency to have a harsh, shrill sound in her more taxing moments, but she does get the emotional angst, that of fear and confusion in choosing between Klytamnestra's evil and Elektra's vengeful lust, exactly right. Linda Watson tackles this notorious role(even Nilsson, one of the best Isoldes, Brunnhildes, Elektras, Salomes and Turandots of her day, said that it was the most difficult role she ever did) and does so with complete abandon, sailing easily over the vast orchestration and showing some suitably cloying sweetness with Chrysothemis and a foreboding with Klytamnestra. Jane Henschel, while not quite the personification of evil that is Varnay or quite having the unique word colouring of Resnik, nonetheless is a superb Klytamnestra, making her decadent in a monstrous sense yet makes her successfully tormented in her haunted Dreams monologue. Her voice is very firm throughout, and I liked some of her almost growling lower notes in her confrontation with Watson, which from a dramatic standpoint was easily the highlight of the production.
Overall, a decent Elektra but could have been even better. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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