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Friday, February 23, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Elektra

Christine Goerke sings the title role. Go see it.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Say hello to her little friend: Christine Goerke as Elektra in San Francisco.
Photo by Cory Weaver for the San Francisco Opera.
Soprano of the moment Christine Goerke, who has sung Elektra in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and on the stage of Carnegie Hall, takes on the towering title role in Richard Strauss' harrowing take on Greek tragedy.

What is Elektra?
Although it is one of the loudest operas ever written, Richard Strauss' Elektra is spoken of in hushed tones. It is Greek tragedy writ large: an intense 100-minute thrill ride through a musical funhouse. It is an exercise in the upping of tension and dramatic stakes, that only finds any kind of relief in the harrowing final scene.

What's Elektra about?
In ancient Greece, in front of the once mighty House of Atreus, the bedraggled Elektra waits on what seems like an eternal vigil. She sleeps outside in the yard like a dog, awaiting the arrival of her brother Orestes. Her goal? The murder of her mother, Queen Klytaemnestra and the Queen's consort Aegisth. Why? Because they took an axe and chopped her father to pieces while he was relaxing in the bathtub. And she will have her revenge.

What's the production like?
This Elektra is the last opera production by Patrice Chéreau, who passed away shortly after its premiere at Aix in 2013. Chereau sets the drama simply. All the action takes place in the courtyard of the House of Atreus, which is missing the usual decay and horror-house touches that are frequently seen in this opera.

What's the music like?
Strauss wrote Elektra for an enormous orchestra, using three violin sections, expanded woodwinds, lots of brass and all manner of percussive effects to depict the baying of hounds, the slithering madness in Klytaemnestra's brain and the gouts of blood that spray forth at the opera's violent denouement. It's all there in the score but it needs great singers to make this show come across.

Who's in it? 
This cast has great singers: most importantly Christine Goerke, the dramatic soprano who will sing Brunnhilde in the Ring next season. She takes on the title role. Elza van der Heever as her sister Chrysothemis and Mikhail Petrenko as Orestes. Jay Hunter Morris and Michaela Schuster are the scheming Aegisth and Klytaemnestra. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the newly minted music director of the Met, conducts.

Why should I see it?
Because you like Greek tragedy, roller coasters, dramatic sopranos, or German opera. Or because you like none of those things but have never seen it before.

When does it open?
Elektra opens March 1, 2018.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Is there a Live in HD broadcast planned?
No. However the 2016 cast with Nina Stemme and Eric Owens was filmed and is available on the Met On Demand streaming service.

Which recording should I get?
This is addressed in detail in The Richard Strauss Project: Elektra  also on Superconductor.

However here are two good recommendations:

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Sir Georg Solti (Decca 1967)
This is harrowing stuff. Birgit Nilsson is a clarion Elektra using her powerful soprano like a well-oiled axe to slice through Strauss' orchestral textures. Georg Solti whips the Vienna forces into a fury and Regime Resnick's Klytaemnestra is the scariest mother of them all. You can practically hear her mind rotting. Not for the faint of heart.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli (Deutsche Grammophon 1997)
Thirty years after the classic Solti recording, the maverick Giuseppe Sinopoli uses his idiosyncratic conducting style to explode many of the clichés about this score. The Vienna Philharmonic play heroically, as always. Alessandra Marc had a brief moment of glory in the '90s and this recording shows why. Deborah Voigt (at her height as a Strauss soprano) is an excellent Chrysothemis. An acceptable alternative.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.