Probably wisely, the Royal Opera is getting in before the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth next year. There will be nothing like the fuss accorded to the bicentenaries of Wagner and Verdi this year, but some neglected Strauss operas might get an airing, and there will certainly be room for any revival of Elektra as gripping as this.
The Royal Opera’s 2005 production by Charles Edwards again provides a serviceable framework. Its main point of interest is to link the two creative periods that the opera spans – the ancient Greece of Sophocles’ tragedy and the early 20th century of Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal – by setting the action in a bombed-out public building, part Grecian monument, part Viennese modernism.
The latest soprano to come through its stylish revolving door is the American Elektra, Christine Goerke. Mettlesome and determined, she inhabits the role with unfailing resilience, showing how Elektra has drawn on her wiles, as well as brute force, to survive in the blood-soaked House of Atreus. Vocally, she is solid as a rock in the middle and lower parts of her voice, but not as free at the top, where she has a fast vibrato.
The rest of the family is in no way overshadowed. Adrianne Pieczonka sings Chrysothemis with uninhibited, soaring vocal lines and Michaela Schuster captures perfectly the production’s depiction of mother-from-hell Klytemnestra as a once glamorous society hostess gone to rack-and-ruin, while putting across Hofmannsthal’s words with devastating point. Iain Paterson makes a nobly sung Orest and John Daszak turns Aegisth’s short cameo into a starring role in its own right.
Like a nuclear reaction waiting to happen, Elektra needs a conductor ready and willing to release its pent-up energy. Andris Nelsons is exceptional in his ability to charge every atom of the score with the maximum vitality and drive, and the Royal Opera orchestra plays impressively, though he tends to keep the volume up too high (a generation ago the irreplaceable Carlos Kleiber showed how scintillating Strauss can be at less than fortissimo). This Elektra is not equal to those unforgettable performances, but it is an exciting revival, well worth catching.
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