Musik nicht höre? sie kommt doch aus mir. -- Elektra
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Richard Strauss, Elektra, Eva Marton, Cheryl Studer, Brigitte Fassbänder, James King (released on October 30, 2001)
Elektra is the twin of Salome, which Strauss had just completed when he began work on Elektra. The composer had misgivings initially about taking on the subject (both heroines dance, after all, although Elektra wisely keeps her clothes on), but he was very impressed by the source, a play by his future librettist and collaborator Hugo von Hofmannsthal, because he thought the tone and story too close to Salome. The Greek original, Electra by Sophocles, is no walk in the park. The House of Atreus was not a happy place for a child. Just ask Iphigenia.
Marton's Elektra is creepy, fed on bitter hatred for so long, her only hope that of seeing her dead father's ghost, expressed in that devastating opening soliloquy ("Agamemnon! Agamemnon! Wo bist du, Vater?"), which the libretto instructs her to sing gegen den Boden (on the ground). In this production, she stands on what I think is Agamemnon's tomb, clutching two ropes. Agamemnon's ghost appears only in the orchestra, in fanfares of royal brass topped by a brain-splitting trumpet. Studer's Chrysothemis flits from place to place in fear, a physical restlessness that her slightly nervous vibrato (a minor criticism of a formidable voice) suits quite well. Taking up a psychological theme also present in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Chrysothemis longs to break free of the palace, to marry someone, even a peasant, and have children. As she sings that line in this production, she rips open her robe to reveal blood-red undergarments. Hello, Sigmund Freud (150 years old this year)!
Kupfer's staging is expressionistic, with the palace at Mycenae resembling a fascist state factory, with what is eventually revealed as a monolithic statue of Agamemnon crumbled to ruins. The lighting is so sparse that it sometimes leaves the stage too dark to be able to see what is happening. The faces of the singers, especially Chrysothemis and Klytämnestra, are distorted by white face paint and heavy make-up. Marton wallows on the floor and tromps around the stage like an asylum inmate; Klytämnestra, a possessed Brigitte Fassbänder, is carried on a litter and already has the visage of a ghost. Her appearance, garish face makeup exaggerating her eyebrows, is close to a literal rendering of the libretto's instructions, and her performance is part wail and part singing.
Charles T. Downey, Elektra at Tanglewood (August 23, 2006)
Jens F. Laurson, Birgit Nilsson's Elektra (January 15, 2006)
Charles T. Downey, Elektra in Paris (June 22, 2005)
One minor drawback is the English subtitles, which appear to be using a translation from the Elizabethan period ("so will an hundred throats of victims / rain their life-blood on thy tomb / [...] Therefore must their blood descend to do thee homage meet / And we, thy son Orestes and thy daughters twain"). However, that is hardly a reason not to buy this DVD, which I may well do now after watching it several times, or just request it from Netflix.
Image Entertainment ID9303RADVD