Elektra at the Met.
|Never were there such a pair of sisters:|
Susan Bullock (top) and Deborah Voigt in Elektra.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera.
Although this is a weird opera to be doing right around the holiday season, the Metropolitan Opera's final 2009 performance of Richard Strauss' Elektra was an unequivocal success. Anchored by the twin leads of Susan Bullock and Deborah Voigt, this was a well-acted, faithful rendition of Strauss' most experimental opera.
Despite the overall quality of the evening, it must be noted that this odd holiday run of a blood-spattered Greek tragedy was brought on as a last-minute "budget" replacement for the Met's more expensive Herbert Wernicke staging of Die Frau Ohne Schatten. Such is life in a recession.
Some Elektras are leather-lunged belters, trying their best to live up to the opera's reputation for hysterical screaming. Susan Bullock is a more delicate artist. She packed plenty of punch in her upper register, actually sang the notes and did not wobble on the big cries of "Ag-ga-memnon!" She is also a very physical princess, scuttling about the stage, looming over her mother in their big confrontation scene, and finally dying in a paroxysm of joy after the murders have been committed. Her best scene was when she lured Aegisth (Wolfgang Schmidt) into the palace, in a moment that was both repellent and seductive.
The opera really flies when Bullock shares the stage with the phenomenal Deborah Voigt, who was simply off the chart as Chrysothemis, Elektra's equally neurotic sister. The best scenes of the evening were the two duets, when Elektra tried to convince her sister that she must help murder their mother and stepfather. Chrysothemis has the most beautiful, tender moments in the opera, and Voigt made them shine with her strong, flexible instrument.
Felicity Palmer gave a harrowing performance as Klytämnestra, singing the atonal nightmare sequence with accuracy and ease. She made the Queen intimidating and pathetic at the same time, capturing the full measure of this complex character. As her paramour, faded heldentenor Wolfgang Schmidt was an excellent choice. His harsh, metallic tone and pain-inducing "Bayreuth bark" are actually well suited to the role of the cowardly Aegisth. Evgeny Nikitin is a compelling Orest, almost Wotan-like in his long Recognition Scene with Elektra. Otto Schenk's sturdy production (which looks like an earthquake hit the House of Atreus) still serves well.
In his Ten Golden Rules, Strauss recommends that one should "conduct Salome and Elektra as if they were by Mendelssohn: faerie music." This approach describes the podium leadership of Fabio Luisi, who produced effervescent waves of strings and hypnotic woodwind textures, shot through with heavy slabs of brass and timpani that evoke the mythic stones of the house of Agamemnon. This was a brilliant performance from the Italian conductor, always maintaining a consistent momentum and carefully balancing the gigantic orchestra with the singers onstage.