TDK has released a new DVD of an Elektra captured in Zurich
from December 2005. It is a total success.
This opera is one in which a design team can revel. They
can go to the absolute max here in matching Strauss's
tortured music. To my mind, the opera can be made
contemporary to any degree, and ideas to convey its
darkness can be endless. Leonie Rysanek
once stated she did not care for a traditional Classical
Greek setting for the piece, and I agree.
The setting looks to be a combination brothel and insane
asylum, sinister, austere and menacingly closed-in. The
floor has no even footing; it is all precariously un-level,
bumpy and dangerous.
The theme of this production is sex, debauchery and
depravity in its most shockingly unleashed fashion, and
it's exhilarating; no holds barred here, all sacred taboos
are turned loose - to devastating effect. Definitely rated
NC-17. The director, Martin Kusej, does a smashing job of
utilizing the busy production and conversely, playing up
the interpersonal confrontations in a very intimate way. Unlike the other reviewers here, I enjoyed this fresh, original interpretation; it would be easy (but unfair) to label this as Eurotrash. The opera is about trashed values, and its controversial view suits this staging well.
Aiding him in this is the superb cast, and Christoph von
Dohnanyi, the conductor: he brings staggering texture,
drama and tension to the score. The audio is unprecedented
in its clarity, as is the picture. In DVD, opera has found
its perfect "synthetic" medium.
Eva Johannson, a Danish soprano new to me, pulls out all
the stops dramatically and vocally. Looking like a cross
between a young Eva Marton and Karita Mattila, she gives a
searing portrayal. Her energy is positively demonic, a
woman possessed. Dressed in bag-lady-rehab sweat-street
clothes, this Elektra is a visual and audio powerhouse. The
voice is lean, has edge, and is huge. I would not call it
classically beautiful, but Elektra simply cannot be sung by
Janowitz-type voices. This baby's gotta have balls.
Johansson does, in spades. There is at the outset a little
trouble with the mittelage, but grows in strength by
leagues as the evening goes on; the "was bluten muss" is
shattering, and it pleasantly stings the ear. The high C is
nailed like few others have done. The tone cuts, is steady,
and she sings with tireless, unstinting abandon. What a joy
it is to hear such an absence of strain, no wobble, no
screeching. Johansson is particularly good at the baleful
expression, whose looks can really zing those darts, but
the "Orest!" is shimmeringly lyrical and reposed. Johansson
carries on the illustrious Varnay-Nilsson-Jones lineage
magnificently. Anyone who can command this role without
self-combusting earns my highest respect; after Jones
retired, it seemed unlikely that this generation could
produce such a worthy successor, but Johansson may well be
the Elektra of this time.
Melanie Diener's shining Chrysothemis matches Johansson all
the way, singing with refulgent, unforced tone. Marjana
Lipovsek's Klytamnestra, a puffy, over-made-up near-drag
queen is worthy of the best of them.
The ending is a surprise, not the usual, and it works; I'll
leave it for you to find out, or I can spoil it for you
privately. Let's just say Elektra proves to be stronger
stuff than you might expect (and if she can stand what
she's had to face in the past...that which does not kill
you only makes you stronger).
The rest of the parts are up to the high level elsewhere.
No need to elaborate further, as this triumphant production
does Strauss-Hoffmansthal proud.
Best of all, this release renews for me the genius of this
evocative, colorful score - the language of music doing
what spoken word could not possibly match.
If you love Elektra, and need an extra dose of depravity to
match a mood you may be in, this will do the job
beautifully. You won't find a better depiction of