Word came that Christine Goerke was ill and would be replaced as Richard Strauss’s Elektra by Sabine Hogrefe, who has sung the part at several European houses. It was exciting to anticipate Hogrefe’s Met debut in one of the most demanding and high-profile roles in the operatic repertory. In the opening scene of the late Patrice Chéreau’s suitably stark and ill-omened production Hogrefe was at times overbalanced by the Orchestra, perhaps holding back a bit to pace herself, but she warmed up and did not disappoint, singing with confidence and power in a terrific performance. She generated real dramatic electricity, propelling the story forward and making Elektra believable as Klytämnestra’s bloodthirsty, revenge-obsessed, daughter.
The other principals were also stellar. Elektra’s more-cautious sister, Chrysothemis, was sung and acted beautifully by Elza van den Heever, serving as the perfect foil for her sibling’s mania, bringing an aspect of yearning and hope to a desperate and horrifying situation. Michaela Schuster brought a very disturbing energy as the guilt-ridden mother, startlingly credible as she describes the torment of gruesome nightmares. Her voice, sounding as if drenched in blood, made one’s skin crawl, which is exactly what Strauss’s music suggests.
The biggest star on this evening was the Orchestra, playing for music director designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin with utter conviction and focus, the brass explosive and terrifying, and the strings evincing jaw-dropping sensitivity and polish, most notably in the pivotal scene when Elektra recognizes her long-lost brother Orest, who she believes to be dead. The Orchestra burned, growled, and screamed in its vivid account of Strauss’s thorny and expressionistic score.