The Metropolitan Opera – Elektra

Strauss
Elektra – Opera in one act to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, adapted from his play, after Sophocles [sung in German with Met titles in English, German and Spanish]

Serving Women – Kathryn Day, Heidi Melton, Maria Zifchak, Wendy Bryn Harmer & Jennifer Check
Overseer – Susan Neves
Elektra – Susan Bullock
Chrysothemis – Deborah Voigt
Klytämnestra – Felicity Palmer
Confidante – Rosemary Nencheck
Trainbearer – Alexandra Newland
Young Servant – John Easterlin
Old Servant – Kevin Burdette
Orest – Evgeny Nikitin
Guardian – Oren Gradus
Aegisth – Wolfgang Schmidt

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Fabio Luisi

Production – Otto Schenk
Set & Costume Designer – Jürgen Rose
Lighting Designer – Gil Wechsler


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 15 December, 2009
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

A scene from Elektra featuring Felicity Palmer as Klytämnestra. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaThe Strauss-Hofmannsthal operatic treatment of Sophocles’s “Elektra” is one of the shorter works in the standard operatic repertoire, but its dramatic impact is one of the strongest. Richard Strauss’s 100-minute score is replete with moments of indisputable psychic horror as the demented, vengeance-obsessed princess Elektra, daughter of Agamemnon and Klytämnestra, plots to exact retribution from her murderous mother for the death of her father.

The effectiveness of any performance of “Elektra” depends to a great degree on the singers who portray the three leading female characters, especially the formidable title role. Elektra herself has four huge solos, each heavily scored and distinctive in its structure, character and mood. The singer who portrays her needs great stamina and a huge dramatic voice. And she must be a resourceful vocal actor who can encompass every emotional nuance between stoic dignity and full-blown hysteria. And even that is not enough. She also needs a voice with enough beauty, color and warmth to penetrate to the heart of the vulnerable princess.

A scene from Elektra featuring Susan Bullock as Elektra & Deborah Voigt as Chrysothemis. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaIn this performance, the second of six in the Metropolitan Opera’s current revival of the 1992 Otto Schenk production, Susan Bullock (making her Met debut in this run) successfully met the wide-ranging vocal and dramatic demands on the opera’s heroine. She brought great subtlety and variety to her portrayal: calmly noble as she called on her dead father’s spirit in her first great solo; shrewdly calculating as she verbally sparred with her mother Klytämnestra; deeply affecting in the great recognition scene with her brother Orest; and completely deranged as she danced in triumph after the deaths of Klytämnestra and Aegisth. Vocally, she seemed slightly underpowered in the opening scene but her voice grew much stronger and surer.

As Chrysothemis – Elektra’s mild-mannered sister, who longs for a husband, motherhood, and peace – Deborah Voigt was a gleaming vocal foil to Elektra and provided some of the evening’s greatest vocal thrills. Reprising the role she sang in the production’s 1992 premiere, and which she has revisited in each its subsequent revivals, her vibrant soprano sounded wondrously lush and responsive as it soared effortlessly over Strauss’s dense and heavy orchestration.

Felicity Palmer brought an arresting, viperous intensity to the role of Klytämnestra, the drug-addicted, nightmare-riddled Queen of Mycenae, who with the help of her lover Aegisth, murdered her husband Agamemnon.

Evgeny Nikitin was eloquent and dignified as Elektra’s long-lost brother Orest, who returns in time to kill Klytämnestra and her lover Aegisth. Wolfgang Schmidt sang well and acted convincingly in the small but crucial role of Aegisth. The gossiping serving women were effectively portrayed by Kathryn Day, Heidi Melton, Maria Zifchak, Wendy Bryn Harmer and Jennifer Check.

Fabio Luisi led the orchestra in an exciting and focused account of Strauss’s unrelenting and powerful score. The vibrantly detailed instrumental playing was one of the best elements of this highly satisfying performance.

Otto Schenk’s seventeen-year-old production, last presented at the Met in 2002, is appropriately grim. Jürgen Rose’s set, which places all the action in a crumbling, tilted courtyard dominated by giant broken statue of a horse that has fallen to the ground, forcefully suggests a sense of downfall and decay.

  • The premiere performance of this Metropolitan Opera production was December 10
  • Further performances on December 18, 22, 26 & 29
  • Metropolitan Opera

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