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Strauss;Richard Elektra


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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Relevant and beautifully realized April 21 2011
By wolfgang731 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This Elektra should be used as a textbook example of how to bring contemporary relevance to an opera without disfiguring it to the point where it becomes wholly unrecognizable. I found the set design to be an amazing and equally imposing creation; an askew, industrial gray cube with rectangular windows spread across two walls, with asymmetrical doorways all framing a raked and tilted courtyard, dotted with potholes and an entrance to a subterranean portion of the palace, more German expressionism than antiquity but it all works superbly. History (and Sophocles, of course) tells us that Elektra takes place in ancient Greece; however, this production has a certain ambiguity with respect to the time and place in which the drama unfolds but that doesn't take away one bit from the overall effect. Yes, Aegisth strolls in wearing a three piece suit reminiscent of William Powell's Nick Charles, Klytemnestra in a dark fuchsia sequined evening gown and coat and her minions resembling members of some Nazi party organization, in tapered and austerely tailored garments in light gray with short finger wave hairdos and dark red lips. One would think that these costumes contrasted with Elektra's black frock, bare feet and pale face would prove jarring but it definitely works; an effective contrast between debauched opulence and wretched squalor. Somehow, it just all seems correct. I'm not a huge fan of so called "modern/ contemporary" productions, let alone Regietheatre that manage to eviscerate the composer's intent and vision, but admit that oftentimes, they can be powerful and that's certainly the case with this Elektra, even though the costumes are really the only thing with which the director has taken liberties, some other smaller details notwithstanding. The narrative is straightforward, blessedly free of pretentious, conceptual ideas and duly honors both Strauss and von Hofmannsthal original creation. On to the performances! Irene Theorin's Elektra is first rate; a consummate actress with the vocal resources to deliver the goods and deliver she does with seemingly endless reserves. Although she may lack Nilsson's laser-like voice, hers is far warmer, more akin to Borkh and Behrens. Her Elektra is a frightened animal - frenzied and nervous. Murderous intent has overwhelmed her completely and she is steadfast in her determination but the frailty and sadness that courses through her are very much evident. The intensity in her performance never lags. Westbroek's Chrysothemis is beautifully rendered and she is an equal vocal match to Theorin. However, her acting style is oftentimes of the stand-and-deliver variety but she does, occasionally, delve into deeper characterization. Waltraud Meier's Klytemnestra is phenomenal. Yes, the voice isn't as plush as it was but it's still in remarkable shape and she offers an earnest and profoundly moving portrait of the ambitious and tyrannical queen plagued by nightmares and a sense of encroaching dread. This Klytemnestra is more terrified and vulnerable than she is selfish and cruel. I'm a big fan of Pape and primarily bought this DVD for his Orest and, of course, I wasn't disappointed. Although, at first, he seemed a little hesitant and the voice somewhat under projected, he quickly gained a foothold and from then on it was full steam ahead. As the cowardly Aegisth, Robert Gambill was excellent, his voice firmly placed and with a warm roundness that I normally don't associate with the typical heldentenor voice. This was one of the few times that I was sorry that the role is so small and appears so late in the opera. The comprimario roles were all sung more than capably, not a weak link anywhere in this cast. Gatti conducts the Vienna Philharmonic with verve and attention to detail. He may not lead a frenzied and rambunctious type of performance but he has clear insight into the work and the nervous tension never wanes but the recognition scene was especially nuanced and beautiful. After the Met's Behrens/Levine production from 1994 (sadly unavailable as a single item but part of the Levine anniversary box set), this is my favorite production of Elektra.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Complex Elektra May 10 2011
By Keris Nine - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Blu-ray
The 2010 production of Elektra for the Salzburg Festspiele is an impressive production, Nikolaus Lehnhoff's staging as intense and claustrophobic as a staging of Strauss' opera ought to be. In addition, this production also benefits from a superlative cast including Iréne Theorin, Waltraud Meier, Eva-Maria Westbroek and René Pape, with Daniele Gatti conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker. It doesn't come much better than this and it does live up to expectations ...unless you already have a strong preference for another production.

Unsurprisingly, for a director like Lehnhoff working with such an opera, the stage setting is a reflection of the internal torment of Elektra, fixated as she is on the death of her father Agamemnon and the desire for vengeance against his murderers, her mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. She's waiting on her brother Orestes to exact that vengeance for her, but, hearing of his death from her sister Chrysothemis, she prepares to carry out the foul deed herself. Lehnhoff envisages the tempestuous fluctuations of Elektra's state of mind as a grey barren landscape, undulating and tilted, full of fractures and chasms from which horrors torment her and into which she is about to drop into at any moment. It's reminiscent of his 1999 stage setting for Wagner's Parsifal, forcing one to draw interesting comparisons between Wagner's score for that opera and Strauss', the themes being similar in respect of Elektra in an eternal state of suffering and torment seeking release or purification.

If the stage setting is highly effective in this respect, its impact is somewhat lessened by the lack of wide-shots to take in the whole stage, the filming for television focussing for the most part on close-ups of Iréne Theorin's fixed mask of madness, which is powerful, but limiting and not quite so effective as what is evoked by the stage set as a whole, and by her position alongside the other characters within that space, since Lehnhoff is very considered about the movement and placement of characters in relation to one another. Fortunately, there is much more expressed in this opera through the score and the singing than through the acting, and here Theorin is terrific, cutting an imposing figure vocally and through her physical presence that dictates the whole tone of the piece. Elektra is a notoriously difficult role for a singer, Theorin having to sing pretty much for an hour and a half without break in the one-act opera, and she rises to the challenge, seeming to grow in strength and intensity right up to the devastating conclusion.

The other singers likewise live up to expectations. René Pape, as you would expect is a strong Orestes, even if he lacks the necessary dramatic qualities here. Westbroek sometimes seems to be danger of going a little shrill and harsh, but shows nevertheless fine control and manages to remain a lyrical Chrysothemis, contrasting well with Theorin's Elektra. Theorin is also well-pitted against Waltraud Meier, but sparks don't fly as they might between Elektra and Clytemnestra, the production here finding a sense of deep mutual like-mother-like-daughter recognition in the two figures, both in the nature of their own internal conflict and in the depths that they are prepared to sink to. It's an interesting variation on the mythological relationship, but it doesn't capture the fullest extent of the conflict within of their relationship that is a little more "complex" (sorry!) and expressed with greater precision in the discordance of Richard Strauss' score.

Although it's hard to justify a preference for Linda Watson and Jane Henschel over Theorin and Meier, Watson's acting in particular being limited to the adoption of a haughty expression that is no match whatsoever for the brooding anguish of Theorin's interpretation, the Baden-Baden 2010 production is sung and played terrifically well with a striking staging, and I feel that Christian Thielemann's much more adventurous conducting brings out the dynamism in the opera and an edge that is missing here. That's a personal preference however, just as others might equally prefer the Karl Böhm version, since otherwise there's little to fault about the performances, staging or conducting of this fine production.

Other than the predominance of close-ups, there's little to fault with its presentation on Blu-ray either, the opera looking and sounding terrific in High Definition. Audience applause at the start and bows at the end have been eliminated, and I rather liked the dramatic integrity this gave the opera. Subtitles are in English, French, Spanish and Italian, but no German. Other than trailers for other releases, there are no extra features and only a brief essay and a synopsis in the booklet.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Superb Elektra April 18 2011
By DDD - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This Salzburg performance of Elektra has been cast with major voices and should go to the top of the list of available performances. Of course had DVD been available fifty years ago two names could easily have trumped all the existing versions: Borkh and Varnay. But we must deal with reality and focus on what Theorin, Westbroek, Pape and Meier bring to the proceedings. Elektra is a very difficult role, one that I hope Theorin will not sing that often. It truly stretches her to the outer limits of her abilities, but having said that it is a performance in which she is truly committed which to some degree can compensate for any vocal frailties or shortcomes.

Theorin's Elektra (there is also another new DVD featuring Linda Watson, but I have not heard it) is the most recent entry. She gives a thoroughly involved performance. There is not a moment when she fails to convey her hatred for her mother and her contempt for her sister. True there are a couple of moments vocally when she is taxed beyond her capabilities but overall she is superior to Johanssen in the Zurich performance and vocally more steady than Marton in the Kupfer production in Vienna. Had Nilsson been able to commit the role to film ten years earlier--1970 rather than 1980 we doubtless would have had a performance for the ages; as it is the document that we have is not the Nilsson I remember in her prime; Actually Nilsson had to be heard live in the house as any recording in some way compromised her voice.

The production is by Lenhoff which means that you are going to have to deal with his need to update the setting. In this case the updating is less expreme than, say, Lohengrin or Dialogue of the Carmelites. The setting is severes and appropriate: a stone courtyard with a severely raked stage. The sidewalls are at angles resemblinig German expressionism in the films of the twenties. Costuming is somewhat era-vague although very definitely not "Grecian. Elektra wears a dress that is simple and plain. Her sister's dress is similar except that the color is a vivid purple. Clytemnestra arrives wearing a turban and a red coat with a large collar of feathers. She also sports dark glasses, retro style. Orestes wears a(by now) standard regie leather jacket, knee length. Aegist in a business suit. Elektra also wears, carries or puts it on the floor an overcoat (leather) Any significance? Your guess is as good as mine. At the end she gives it to Orestes.

Fortunately the Lenhoff touches do not detract from the performanace as they so in other productions, e.g., Lohengrin and Parsifal--although I must admist i liked the latter. What remains are the performances of the three women. Theorin's voice is probably not as large as Nilsson's or Marton's and she does not have Nilsson's laser like instrument. She also emulates her Swedish countryman in that she also sings Turandot--again a role that one could question. Westbroek is a superb Chrysothemnis, the possessor of a warm lyrico spinto voice. She matches Theorin in commmitment. Meier is an artist who has never failed to deliver in the appropriate fach. The voice is no longer plush--all those Isolde's have taken a toll, but it is rather refreshing to see Clytemnestra not "dressed down" as it were. Dramatically she is demonic. Pape's Orestes ;is gloriously sung--could it be otherwise?

Usually the booklet accompanying the disc will state that the DVD is drived from performancees over a number of days. All that is provided is that the production was lived the large theatre, Salzburg Festival 2010. There is no applause at the end so that presumably it was a dress rehearsal--at least that portion. After a performance such as this the applause would have been in order.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Harrowing and Unforgettable - An Elektra of the Undead Aug. 12 2011
By Gandharva - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Blu-ray
I recently purchased a copy of Strauss' Elektra (at Target for much less than Amazon). This is from the 2010 Salzburg Festival with Iréne Theorin in the title role with support from Waltraud Meier as Klytämnestra (wait `til you see what happens to her at the end), Eva-Maria Westbroek as Chrysothemis, and the great René Pape as Orest. Daniele Gatti conducts the Weiner Philharmoniker and the stage direction is by Nikolaus Lehnoff who created a very successful production of Parsifal a few years ago.

So I popped it in very late the other night just to check the audio and video quality. I figured I'd watch for five minutes, tops. Well, Elektra had me at Allein! (Alone!). Her opening line that invokes her murdered father, coupled with her phantom presence, was so compelling I had to stick around just to find out what dark corner of the universe this girl was emerging from and how far her obsession would take her. I watched the whole thing straight through.

If you know the story of Elektra from Greek Tragedy, well, opera doesn't get any more tragic than this. Once the story takes hold of you, look out. But what music Strauss composed! - at times dissonant and unworldly, at other times sublimely beautiful, almost poetic. How the lyrical climax in the recognition scene can be filled with such emotional intensity, and still manage to strike a chord of tenderness is a tribute to Strauss' gift of composition.

An opera like this, in the hands of anything less than a stellar cast and orchestra, would be a disaster. Fortunately a world-class ensemble was put together to meet the challenge of Strauss' masterpiece. The result is a harrowing performance of sheer psychological terror and existentialism. Elektra is one of the most demanding roles in the dramatic soprano repertoire, perhaps on par only with Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung. But where Wagner allows many a moment of quiet repose, Strauss drives the intensity to white-hot levels that never let up. Iréne Theorin delivers a fervent performance with remarkable vocal range. Her high notes are well executed and her voice is always under control, never straining.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Waltraud Meier, the great Wagnerian soprano, delivers a definitive performance as Elektra's mother who is defiant in the face of her nightmarish visions of a fate waiting to strike. (If you like her here, it would be well worth checking out her portrayal of Ortrud in Wagner: Lohengrin [Blu-ray].) Eva-Maria Westbroek, one of the emerging talents of the international stage and who has rightfully claimed ownership of the Walküre Sieglinde, is more than good enough (although slightly miscast) as Elektra's gentle unassuming sister who longs to escape her misery and live a normal life. René Pape plays the relatively small basso part of Elektra's exiled brother who returns for vengeance with efficiency and understatement. He stays within the role and lets his voice perform naturally.

The audio and video in this Blu-ray from Arthaus Musik is excellent. The dts surround track is spacious and full-bodied; the video clear and well framed. Conductor Gatti gives a confident reading of Strauss and the orchestra responds well to the dramatic highs as well as the subtle nuances in the score. Lehnhoff's production, much like with Parsifal, is on the mark. He shows Elektra as an atrophy of human emotion and self-abandonment. She appears as the undead behind a horrific mask of self-destruction. The everything-gray stage of distorted angles and empty holes is seen as a reflection of her psychosis. If you're up for it, this Elektra really delivers.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Reposted from Superconductor: "Blood Bath in Baden-Baden" Feb. 12 2011
By Paul Pelkonen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
This DVD of Richard Strauss' blood-drenched Greek tragedy was filmed in June of 2010 at Baden-Baden. This is a successful, almost clinical staging of the opera, staged by Herbert Wernicke without the usual gore and decay. Mr. Wernicke's set is stark and geometric, dominated by a giant rotating, black rectangle that turns on its diagonal axis to reveal bright hues. It's like a Robert Wilson production, unhampered by awkward body movements.

In the opening monologue, soprano Linda Watson pushes her instrument to the absolute limit, and beyond. Elektra is a murderously difficult role, and this American soprano sings with a searing sound when at full voice over Strauss' gigantic orchestra. Ms. Watson achieves command of Strauss' tricky waltz rhythms in the second part of the aria, and manages a full, powerful presence, never leaving the center of attention. She is sweet, even cloying in her scenes with Chrysothemis. Finally, she opens up her voice for an impressive "Recognition Scene" with Orest, raising her voice high against the (temporarily) lightened orchestration in a soaring arch of sound.

Klytaemnestra is played with a grandiose, Sunset Boulevard decadence by Jane Henschel. Strauss reserved his most difficult music for this mother-daughter confrontation, sinuous, ear-scraping orchestral figures that broke the limits of tonality and inspired many modern composers. The confrontation is masterfully acted and powerfully sung, with impressive, almost growled low notes from Ms. Henschel. Klytaemnestra's scarlet-and-gold train is put to good use as a as a symbol of power and a surrogate bloodstain for the murder that is to come.

As Chrysothemis, the "good" sister embroiled in Elektra's plan to avenge the murder of her father, Manuela Uhl makes a solid impression. Ms. Uhl has a hard, bright instrument that is also taxed by the heavy orchestra. Emotionally, she is limited to fear and confusion, caught between her mother's machinations and her sister's raw blood lust, but those are the two central emotions of this weak character. One clever touch: after Klytaemnestra is axed, her younger daughter wastes no time in appropriating the baubles, charms and beads from the Queen's corpse--effectively taking her mother's place.

In an opera with three leading ladies, it is sometimes hard for the men to be noticed. Rene Kollo is Aegisth, the latest in a line of faded heldentenors to be led to the slaughter. Albert Dohmen is a powerful, if unemotional Orest, determined to kill his mother and steeled to the task at hand. This sturdy Wagner baritone does not have time to give much more information than that.

On the podium, Christian Thielemann shows great command of rhythm and Strauss' rich orchestral detail. He leads the Munich Philharmonic with a light, airy touch, letting the orchestra waltz in demented triple time before letting the brass smash out great, slab-like chords. Mr. Thielemann is a fine Strauss conductor, who follows the composer's advice about Elektra: to conduct "as if it were by Mendelssohn: fairy music."


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