Elektra is one of my favourite Strauss operas. It is dark, brutal and utterly compelling right up to its devastating conclusion. This Elektra is great. I wouldn't go as far to say it is my personal favourite, as the Nilsson performance was legendary as is the film with Rysanek. The Marton and Behrens performances I also highly recommend. However, judging it sorely on its own and it is still absolutely great. The costumes and sets are very atmospheric, and the lighting further helps to enhance it.
The production/opera is intelligently and grippingly staged by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, especially the recognition scene and Klytamnestra's murder, just two of the highlights of Elektra. But I found the most interesting touch to be with Elektra's state of mind, portrayed as a grey and tempestuous barren landscape. Viewing it on Blu-Ray, I personally think the production could've benefited from more wide-shots, doing that the whole stage could be seen and the viewer could absorb the drama even more. Musically it is a feast. It is a magnificent but very challenging score, and the orchestra play it wonderfully with no signs of fatigue, even the brass in Elektra's death dance.
Daniele Gatti's conducting may perhaps lack Thielmann's edge and Bohm's expertise, but he still does a great job holding everything together. As for the singing, I have to say that Irene Theorin is sensational as Elektra. The role is up there with Isolde, Turandot and Abaigaille as one of the notoriously difficult female roles in opera. Theorin however never shows signs of being taxed by it, the voice is huge yet resplendent and capable of exquisite soft singing, and her stage presence is incredibly powerful.
Eva Marie Westbroek is a tad shrill and harsh on her high notes, but like Theorin she is very committed and controlled as Elektra's sister Chrystothemis, contrasting well with her. As brother Orest, Rene Pape is not perhaps at his very best(like as King Marke, Sarastro and Boris Godunov), but his voice is still warm and beautiful and dramatically, while not as commanding as he has been, he is strong.
Other than Theorin I really have to mention Waltraud Meier, whose Klytamnestra is just outstanding, the best since Brigitte Fassbaender. This production does have a more different approach to the Klytamnestra I usually see, there isn't the bloodcurdling quality of Fassbaender or the personification of evil like Astrid Varnay, but while there is still an essence of evil it is a more troubled and brutalised realisation. Meier's voice is not as velvety as it once was but it is intelligently coloured and the way she holds herself on stage just goes to show what a great artist she is.
All in all, perhaps not definitive but still great. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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