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BOHM'S FINAL HOMMAGE TO STRAUSS
on 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!