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'Elektra' at Aix-en-Provence

Interesting opera all around this year from the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. The revival of a controversial Don Giovanni by Dmitri Cherniakov, Robert Carsen's Rigoletto in a circus (don't miss the video stream from Arte), and a highly lauded staging of Strauss's Elektra directed by Patrice Chéreau. Christian Merlin covered that last one in an article (Tout le monde se lève pour Elektra, July 12) for Le Figaro (my translation):
What exactly does one expect from a festival? The exceptional. That evening one remembers all one's life, that stands out from what one can see or hear anywhere else. It is far from always being the case. But when leaving Strauss's Elektra as the Festival d'Aix has just premiered it in the Grand Théâtre de Provence, one knows that the word festival is applied here in its true meaning. Or rather, one does not actually say much because one is so moved that one is not immediately able to articulate something intelligent about it. Even to applaud was not easy, so much was one floored by the shock. In effect, one made a quick exit from the hall to walk alone in the streets of Aix, to allow the violence of the emotions felt during one hour and forty-five minutes seep in: opera should always be like this, and not something merely pretty or diverting.

The ingredients in the mix to make this spectacle into a mythic evening? First, three women who were the quintessence of the characters imagined by Strauss and Hofmannsthal. The Elektra to take one's breath away from Evelyn Herlitzius, a tiny little woman whom one would not even notice in the street and who became like an animal on the stage, burning with internal fire, with a humanity and vocal endurance that grips you by the throat. The royal Klytaemnestra of Waltraud Meier, never outrageous, always dignified, detailing each word of the text with a psychological precision and a presence beyond most great actresses. The robust and healthy Chrysothemis of Adrienne Pieczonka, even the superb bass of Mikhail Petrenko brought an unexpected profile to the thankless role of Orest.
Esa-Pekka Salonen turned in, according to Merlin, an excellent reading of the score, his first (Merlin also interviewed Salonen), and the Orchestre de Paris "covered itself in glory in the pit," particularly fine in the strings. The staging by Chéreau, while not a "radical rereading" of the opera, relied instead on simplicity and literalness, with a neutral white staging by Richard Peduzzi "evoking a timeless Greece, as archaic as it was modern." The direction focused on bringing forward the humanity of the characters, down to a skillful intertwining of characters with the singers interpreting them. Merlin concludes by noting that when the tutor of Orestes and the old servant recognize Orestes before brother and sister do, tears came to his eyes at this simple but so true moment, because the singers of those roles were Donald McIntyre and Franz Mazura, aged 79 and 89, two pillars of the Chéreau Ring at Bayreuth in 1976.

The production will be broadcast on Arte on July 19, and hopefully soon after that will be available for Internet streaming. UPDATE: Video stream on Arte available starting on July 19 at 2 pm EDT.

Marie-Aude Roux, "Elektra", le rêve de tragédie de Patrice Chéreau (Le Monde, July 11)

Shirley Apthorp, Elektra, Aix-en-Provence Festival – review (Financial Times, July 11)

Judy Fayard, Clowning Glory (Wall Street Journal, July 11)

Philippe Venturini, A Aix, l’incandescence des grands soirs pour « Elektra » (Les Échos, July 13)

Marie-Pierre Ferey, L'"Elektra" de Chéreau embrase le festival d'Aix-en-Provence (Agence France-Presse, July 11)

Jorg von Uthmann, Mad Elektra Plots Revenge, Chereau Gets Ovation at Aix (Bloomberg News, July 14)

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