on 6 November 2015
This was a stellar cast. Herlitzius, was for me, a definitive Elektra of this generation. Her acting and energy was unsurpassed. Meiers sympathetic portrayal as Klytamestra was an interesting touch, a far cry from the traditional villainess that we always see.
I find myself not being able to say much about the production,mas I was getting irritated with the camera work and video direction. What's with these slow motion shots? For dramatic prowess? Someone should tell the film director, that the music is dramatic enough, we don't need slow motion shots to show us this, well, at least, I dont. As I was annoyed by this, I found myself preferring the production from Salzburg rather en this one. I will give this a second viewing, and will try to ignore the annoying filming to make a proper judgement on this production.
Subtitles in English was a chore. Not only is it in some sort of Medieval English, but they are more often then not, out of sync with what has been said. I'm lucky that I know this opera and understand a smattering of German, I do like the subtitles to glance at sometimes though, but these were hard work on their own.
In short, musically great, singing, great, acting great. Production, I'm not sure of, due to shoddy video direction and subtitles....less said the better.
Richard Strauss collaborated with Hofmannsthal, both different personalities. Richard was easy going, comfortable, turned away wrath with a joke, at ease with musicians and temperamental singers. Hofmannsthal was aloof, stiff , prone to depression, well read, and snobbish. Yet Elektra was the first of many operas they wrote together. Based on Hofmannsthal's play (1904) after the tragedy by Sophocles (411 or 410 BC). Premiere 1909, Semper Openhaus, Dresden. Often spoken of in Freudian terms, but Kennedy states, that is by no means certain, for he was inspired by Sophocles. He writes the Freudian overtones are accidental.
This was the last production of Patrice Chereau who died in October 1913. He is renowned for his 1976 Bayreuth Ring cycle, based upon the Industral revolution as Wagner originally conceived it. In that cycle he revolutionized how singers act and transformed the staging of opera. So today we speak of the Chereau Ring cycle. Thus, from the 23 minute Interview on the Bluray in French with English subtitles, I will quote a few of Chereau's views on this Elektra.
" Hofmannthal's reader's of his play, come to it, after two long centuries where the story took on different meanings. But there are traces of the original Ancient Greek plays left. It is these that I look for in Aeschylus, rather than Hofmannshal, certainly not Strauss, who chose the most barbaric of the Ancient Greek plays about Elektra. (In his article Three Women in the booklet, Chereau states that apart from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides there is a dazzling rereading of Shakespeares Hamlet.) The story is distorted. Klytamnestra never mentions why she murdered her husband. In the play it is mentioned, but Strauss cut it. In ancient ciivilization's you had to avenge a murder and so it continued. Yet why this opera is closer to Hamlet, is that Elektra is devoured by her mourning, she wants to avenge him, but will never do so. In the end she destroys herself by dancing in a demented state. Also, we should not view Chrysothemis as an idiot because she wants a family and a normal life, or believe what Elektra says, for she is very self centered".
" All opera's create difficulties. We have had to deal with how Elektra changes in such a short period,yet in Wagner's Ring cycle, you have a long arc in which you have time to show the changes. Another problem is, we attempted to create a house where horrors do not happen, but the murder has eaten away at the characters for 10 years since the murder. Nothing has any meaning. They are in crisis. This opera is not set in the ancient period, for Hofmannsthal thought it was barbaric. Strauss's music says things we could miss in Hofmannsthal's play or libretto."
Synopsis: In this single Act opera lasting 110 minutes tells of how Elektra, daughter of King Agamemnon, keeps alive the memory of her father, murdered upon his return from Troy by his wife, Klytemnestra, and her lover, and dwells only on vengeance. and how the vengeance finally comes about.
Chereau sets the opera in the daylight as far as possible, near the ending there is darkness.The opera opens quietly, with women watering the courtyard and sweeping it. Then the music begins. Richard Peduzzi is the stage designer of Elektra, who designed the sets for Chereau's Ring cycle. Walls representing the living quarters surround the court yard, where there are two stone blocks. Here Elektra lives apart from her family, because of the trauma caused by her father's death. There are a few stairs where there is another level a few feet off the ground; at the end is a door. It is a minimalist set. Lightening makes the back ground beige with whitish colouring and the door bluish. The staging brings about a state of timelessness, even though Chereau states it is about today. The costumes may appear modernish, but because the colours are dull, and of the same tonal value, they add to this sense of being in the distant past; at least to me. For example, Klytamnestra wears a black top and skirt, then later a long coat down to her feet, which could be late 19th century. Traditionalists would be fascinated by this rendition of this opera. It is my belief that Chereau captures the spirit of the opera, unlike the dark staging of the opera conducted by Bohm, or the very modern staged Elektra conducted by Von Dohnanyi,yet both DVD's I own and like.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Orchestre De Paris, bringing to the fore the beautiful melodies and his tempi are swift. This is Strauss's Elektra as it should be played. How do I know? I own the DGG set Strauss conducts Strauss, whose mentor was Von Bulow, who worked with Wagner. Those long lines, the sudden peaks and changes of tempi Salonen captures well. We have found another great Strauss conductor to join Thielemann. You could not get a better cast today. Evelyn Herlitzus is Elektra. Chereau has her acting out of her skin, for he was essentially a theatre director. Her singing has that emotional thrust, that she had as Barak's wife in the Thielemann, Strauss's Woman without a shadow. She was the perfect foil for Schwanewilms, the greatest living Strauss soprano today. None of the other singers who are Elektra and that includes Rysanek, can touch Herlitzus. And I like the great Wagnerian dramatic soprano Leonie Rysanek. Waltraud Meier Mezzo, the great Wagner singer is Klytamnestra. She is very attractive and slender. Not like Lipovsek and Varnay in the two other DVD's. For it is a part for singers who are getting older and are portrayed as over sexed. Here again is a Chereau touch, where the mother of Elektra does not act over the top, but has a young lover and you can believe it.
Chrysothemnis Adrianne Pieczonka, who attempts to break out of this mental prison, is excellent. She was the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier in a Salzburg Festival DVD production a while back. Orest Mikhail Petrenko baritone, who kills his mother and lover, lives and breathes the role. A nice touch is Franz Mazura as servant to Orest, older now, but he was Gunther in Chereau's ring. Also, New Zealander, Donald McIntyre as Ein alter Diener, he sings as well. He was Wotan in Chereau's ring. A nice touch. Renate Behle Die Vertaute. She was Brunnhilde in the Walkure, Stuttgart Ring. The rest of the Cast is excellent, with singers from different races. Chereau explained why he did this and had older singers in two of the parts.
The Bluray is produced like a book. When you open it, you have a picture of Chereau 1944-2013, also the cast. Bluray disc track numbers and arias. Essays in French, English and German. Elektra in a few words. Synopsis. Three woman by Chereau.The Bluray disc is inserted in a plastic inserted onto the back cover. Bonus 23 minutes interview with Chereau. Recorded Aix-en-province 29th June 2013. This opera is a fitting memorial to Chereau's life. A living legacy to a true opera revolutionary. I hope you enjoy this opera as much as I have done.
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish(opera). Region code: A. B. C. Sound: 2.0 PCM. 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. .Colour 16.9. In collaboration with 5 opera houses including the Met. The picture is brilliant as is the case with most bluray's.
REFERENCES: Booklet Belair. Holden, A. The Penguin opera Guide. 1995. Viking. Kennedy, M. Richard Strauss.1976. J.M Dent and Sons.
on 28 May 2014
Elektra is a favourite opera of mine, and I think I have all the currently available DVDs/blu-rays. I wouldn't want to be without any of them, but my personal favourites are the Salzburg version with Irene Theorin and the filmed version with Leonie Rysanek and Karl Bohm conducting. This new version joins my favourites.
Musically, it's fantastic. All the singers are very good indeed, even the minor characters. Evelyn Herlitzius gives a fantastic performance as Elektra. Let's face it, this role is never going to be pretty, but it's always good to come across someone who can sing it rather than shriek it. The characterization is vivid and she's almost constantly on the move - no "stand-and-deliver" here. Adrianne Pieczonka provides a good contrast as Chrysothemis - creamy of tone and bringing out all of her dowdiness and frustration. Waltraud Meier is superb as Klytemnestra - not as evil as normal, more a woman at her wits' end - you almost feel sorry for her! The direction of the singers is inspired - with all the roles vividly characterized - even the small ones. The orchestra play brilliantly for Esa-Pekka Salonen, playing with tremendous force or melting beauty as required. The recorded sound is very powerful and transparent, delivering real impact - and a good balance between stage and pit.
The production updates the action to the recent past. The set is simple and unremarkable. The "house" is through a large arch on a raised platform at the back and there are entrances at the sides for the servants. The costumes are dowdy and drab, apart from Klytemnestra who wears an elegant long black dress and a large green necklace.
My only problem - and I considered taking a star off for it - is the lighting. At the start, half the stage is light and the other half is in shadow. As the opera progresses, it gets darker and darker. This makes sense, obviously, as by the time Aegisthus turns up he needs lights to see his way. Unfortunately, the result on the recording is that the stage picture gets so dark that it's sometimes difficult to make out what's going on - from the end of the Recognition Scene onwards. I suspect that it would have been OK for the live audience sitting in the dark, but the light levels are clearly too low for filming.
Sound and pictures (allowing for the lighting) are both superb. Technical details: 24-bit LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
An oddity (not a problem) is the English subtitling - written in some really strange archaic-poetic English. The characters address each other using "thee" and "thou" and say things like "Lo! Ev'ry limb of thine doth quake!" I suspect that they might have taken the text from a very old translation of the Sophocles.
This is one of the very best Elektras on DVD/blu-ray and one that I shall be returning to often.