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A thrilling experience,
This review is from: Strauss - Elektra (Audio CD)
There is something sly and knowing about this opera, as if Strauss were deliberately assuming a modernist idiom "pour épater la bourgeoisie". Remember this was his first collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the same partnership which next did a complete volte-face and two years later gave us "Der Rosenkavalier", an equally deliberate bit of snook-cocking which apparently turned its back on the current progressive musical trends and yearned to "stroke the faded velvet curtains of Romanticism".
Yet for all their supposed differences, there are in fact passages in both operas which are remarkably similar: you have only to hear the lyrical episodes in Elektra's monologues to register that this is the same composer who caresses our ears with Viennese waltzes only to write music in Ochs' tavern scene every bit as spiky and chaotic as the opening scene in "Elektra" in which the maids discuss the princess's feral demeanour. Ever the canny publicist, Strauss was always one step ahead of the critics and about giving the public something new; hence he re-invented himself several times over during a career which presented an astonishing variety of operatic styles, culminating in the gorgeous conversational chamber opera "Capriccio".
You certainly have to be in the mood to listen to "Elektra"; easy-listening, both in terms of the content and the music, it ain't - but goodness, it's thrilling, even for those of us whose tastes are a tad conservative. The sheer size of the orchestra constitutes an aural experience in itself and Sinopoli throws himself into the drama without any of the fussy point-making or annoying gear-changes which his critics find in some of his recordings. The three lead female voices are stunning: Alessandra Marc has a very big, creamy voice with an exciting upper extension. Her vowels are sometimes occluded but her smoky tones are replete with coiled passion and repressed violence. Given the stupendous challenge of the role, how anyone can criticise her singing in sheer vocal terms, I cannot comprehend. She is absolutely wonderful in that most sensual of passages where Elektra tempts her sister into being her murderous accomplice by dangling an image of nuptial bliss before her. Or try her “Orest! Orest! Orest!” aria; voluptuous Strauss singing at its most mesmerising with languorous “Rosenkavalier” style orchestration in the accompaniment. She uses the break in her voice between registers to spine-chilling effect; true, she occasionally scoops a bit but the top notes are gleamingly secure. Deborah Voigt is in gleaming, youthful voice and makes Chrysothemis more vital and less pusillanimous than some interpreters. Hannah Schwarz is the epitome of crazed, tormented malevolence as Klytämnestra; she is a superb vocal actress.
As Orestes, bass Sam Ramey’s is a little mature and rocky by this stage of his career but it is still a noble sound. His faintly somnambulistic delivery of Orestes’ words to his sister before his identity is revealed is actually very effective, as it conveys his deliberate attempt at restraint and concealment. Siegfried Jerusalem is in rather hoarse voice in the relatively small role of Aegisthus.
Comparisons with the famous Solti recording are otiose; both are superb and there is surely room for a more recent version in modern, digital sound with three of the best Strauss singers ever to grace the stage. If you surrender yourself to the drama, long after listening to this you will find yourself intoning “Aga-MEM-non!” much to the bewilderment of anyone in your vicinity.