The Metropolitan Opera – Patrice Chéreau’s production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra – Nina Stemme; conducted by Donald Runnicles

Elektra, Op.58 – Opera in one Act to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, adapted from his play, after Sophocles [sung in German, with English Met Titles in German, English and Spanish]

Elektra – Nina Stemme
Chrysothemis – Lise Davidsen
Klytämnestra – Michaela Schuster
Orest – Greer Grimsley
Aegisth – Stefan Vinke

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Donald Runnicles

Patrice Chéreau – Production
Richard Peduzzi – Set Designer
Caroline de Vivaise – Costume Designer
Dominique Bruguière – Lighting Designer

5 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 1 April, 2022
Venue: Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

The late Patrice Chéreau’s starkly sinister staging of Strauss’s Elektra, last seen at the Met in 2018, is back in the house for a second revival. Richard Peduzzi’s stripped-down set, which depicts Agamemnon’s palace and its courtyard as a surrealistic, De Chirico-like place, holds up well and – assisted by Caroline de Vivaise’s dingy, vaguely modern costumes and Dominique Bruguière’s carefully calculated lighting designs – keeps the focus on the action and the music. Peter McClintock, Donald Runnicles and an outstanding cast successfully convey all the horror and intensity in Strauss’s expressionist masterpiece to deliver a rapturous, highly moving performance. 

Nina Stemme returns as the unhinged title character, hell-bent on avenging her father Agamemnon’s murder. She delivers an extraordinary performance, using her thrilling soprano and superb acting skills to make her morbidly obsessed character totally believable. Her long opening monologue, ‘Allein! Weh, ganz allein’, in which she recounts the homicide in gory detail, is riveting, and in the great mournful passage, ‘Kannst du nicht die Botschaft austrompeten dort…’, when she believes her brother Orestes is dead, she displays extraordinary depth of feeling. But she was most impressive in the poignant Recognition Scene where she embraced her brother.

As Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis, Lise Davidsen is an absolute joy as she unleashes her sumptuous soprano to give abundant voice to her emotions and conjures up her youthful and impulsive character’s dreams of living a full life and having children. She and Stemme have a natural chemistry that makes their sisterhood and complicated relationship highly plausible. Her big moment is her highly impassioned rendering of ‘Ich kann nicht sitzen’, the lengthy and lyrical solo in which she tells Elektra how she longs to escape the palace and release the fires of love within her.

Michaela Schuster gives a blood-chilling performance as Klytämnestra, the wife of Agamemnon and mother of Elektra. She uses her full, rangy mezzo to astonishingly creepy effect in ‘Wer älter wird’, in which she describes her gruesome nightmares and reveals her guilt-ridden vacillations between arrogance and fear.

As Elektra’s brother Orest, who comes back to avenge their father, Greer Grimsley looks and sounds appropriately stately and stoic, his steely bassbaritone ringing with authority. The lesser roles are also stellar, including the luxury casting of tenor Stefan Vinke as Aegisth who makes a brief appearance after Klytämnestra’s death until he too is stabbed to death.

This revival of Elektra shows the Met Orchestra at its absolute best. Donald Runnicles leads a gleaming, urgent and richly nuanced account of the score, allowing all the shocking and more modernist elements of the music to come through but also highlighting the many subtleties and moments of lyricism to reveal the restless sweep of Strauss’s magnificent music.

·    Further performances on April 5, 9, 12, 16 (matinee) & 20.

·    The April 16 performance will be broadcast live beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern Time via the Toll Brothers–Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network.

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