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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2005
DGG is to be congratulated for finally issuing on DVD what is a musical document of the utmost importance, the final recording by Karl Böhm, friend and champion of Richard Strauss, the composer's shattering one act opera "Elektra".
This most significant issue not only enshrines Böhm's final work (the Recognition Scene was the last music he recorded) but what may well be the pinnacle of Leonie Rysanek's career. For many, including Böhm himself, THE Strauss soprano of her generation, Rysanek is peerless in her understanding of the role's requirements and in her ability to communicate every facet of the heroine's character through vocal and dramatic means. Her unforgettably dramatic stage appearances are well-documented as is her dislike of the recording studio but, as can be seen in documentary, she is absolutely unsparing and diligent in creating an equally powerful performance for the camera, both subtle and dramatic. One simply cannot take one's eyes off her for fear of missing one of a thousand telling details. If she had done nothing else, this would assure Leonie Rysanek of her rightful place among the greats.
At the heart of the opera - and of this performance - is the great confrontation between Elektra and Klytämnestra, played by the great Astrid Varnay, larger than life but undeniably effective in seizing every opportunity the role affords. The tension created by these two artists, especially at the climax of the scene, is quite astonishing. Alongside them no one really counts, but Catarina Ligendza, complete with Bo Derek locks, is a sympathetic Chrysothemis, slightly pushed by the high tessitura. Hans Beirer is a suitably effete Äegisth but Fischer-Dieskau's Orest is a disappointment, vocally and dramatically stiff. This may be what director Götz Friedrich wanted in his often controversial but stimulating staging, an unsettling mix of silent-movie and modern effects set in a ruined no-man's land of blood, mud and rain.
As for the contribution of Böhm and the VPO - miraculous. Tense, vigourous and emotion-drenched yet always traslucent, in attention to detail and overall impact it couldn't be bettered.
The voices are slightly forwardly balanced, but the sound quality is exemplary. The colour is subtle and very subdued, rightly so, and now non-German speakers have the option of subtitles, essential in this of all operas. Absolutely unmissable.
The accompanying documentary features fascinating and extensive footage of the recording sessions and the subsequent filming. The 87 year old Böhm, though physically frail is mentally razor-sharp and alert to the smallest detail as he inspires his cast and orchestra to give of their very considerable best. There are interesting comments from the singers, and Götz Friedrich is given the chance to explain his view of the work; stimulating but not to everyone's liking. Inserts of an actress in modern dress reading excerpts from the text are a minor irritation in this invaluable document. As with the opera itself, sound and picture quality are first class.
A footnote: First time round, for maximum visual and dramatic impact, be sure to watch the opera before the documentary!
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This is basically a movie of the actors/singers miming to the Böhm recording of the opera. The soundtrack quality is good for the age of recording. Böhm brings romanticism to the brutal score. Picture quality isn't great and at 4:3 aspect ratio it looks very dated. The miming isn't always synchronous with the singing and therefore it looks amateurish, hammy and over acted. Not my favourite I have to say.
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on 14 January 2009
I bought this DVD because of the good reviews and was not disapointed. This production has the 'WOW' I look for in opera and is probably the best opera DVD I've bought so far. Interestingly, it contains a lot of visual elements that I complain about in other productions (grey settings/torture happening in the corner of the stage/rain/people in sacks/panda eye-make up/bandages around the head/heroine in bare feet and slip dress) but they worked in this case. They were right for this music.
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on 15 August 2005
This is definately the version to own. Leonie Rysanek gives the best interpretation of Elektra ever and together with Karl Bohm (a personal friend of Strauss) what more could you want. All the other singers are great in their rolls and staging by Gotz Friedrich makes this Strauss at its best.
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on 30 August 2012
This is the one Elketra recording you must have - then you'll need no others
I myself extracted the audio track and burnt it onto CD: there is no better sung/played recording, neither audio or video.
Nilsson has a "too light" voice as Elektra, whilst Rysanek has a warm, perfectly controlled tone. Her "Allein. Weh, ganz allein" is thrilling: at the very end, as she dances singing "dein Blut rings um dein Grab!" you nearly dance with her too. When she talks with Klytämnestra, and sings the hunt-scene ("Was Bluten muss?") you SEE her and Orest running after their mother through the palace, with the axe in their hands. The murder-scene is incredible: whilst when Orest kills Klyämnestra I didn't like how Rysanek looked on video (she nearly seems to weep), her shout "Triff doch einmal!" is thrilling, and when she welcomes Ägist and acts as a good girl, she is threateningly creepy. And finally when she dances and falls dead to the ground ... that IS Elektra!
Astrid Varnay has the perfect voice as Klytämnestra, and the creepy make-up she wears makes her look both deadly ill and lethally, evilly cunning (a bit of a Disney's Sea Witch, but that's OK).
Fischer-Dieskau acts very good - see his "Nein!" when Rysanek sings "Elektra heiss ich": never heard another "Nein" wich is both sung and shouted like that.
The rest of the cast is very good too.
Bohm directs the Wiener very finely, and roughly (as much as the score requires), but he is capable of very lushous moments too (see Elektra's final dances: that's why they call it orgiastic theatre!).
The setting could be better, i.e. coherent with the original setting of the opera (just like Friedrich somehow did with Stratas' Salome), but Friedrich has at least a great sense of drama and pace: Elektra's monologue and Klytämnestra's entrance are great (though Klytämnestra's entrance at some point looks like a softcore video).
A must have recording anyway.
Now, there is just a question left: Will DG ever release a soundtrack (i.e. the recording without rainfall etc.) on a CD set?
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on 16 May 2012
Being a richard strauss fan I have waited to buy this filmed version of Elektra. I have seen it many times on stage, and have a few dvd recordings of the work. I was put off the filmed version as I was not sure what to expect, but I need not have worried. The singing and playing is of the highest standard and being filmed in a studio does not spoil it in any way. JUST GO AND BUY IT.
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on 12 June 2016
Get to love every opera before you tackle this one. A screaming cacophony of shrill loudness, with mud and rain and darkness everywhere. If you are expecting Der Rosenkavalier.........forget it !
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on 16 July 2015
A stunning film of Strauss' edgy score. Bohm's last recording is a masterwork of operatic art. LR in superb - matchless - form with her warm-voiced portrayal of this extraordinary role.
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on 8 October 2014
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