Monday, 20 April 2015

Richard Strauss, Elektra - Wiener Staatsoper

Performance 11th April

At another visit in the capital Vienna I saw the new production of Elektra which premiered some weeks ago. Elektra might be one of the most difficult operas to perform because of the incredibly demanding roles. Especially the three female roles of the family of the Atreides are quite a challenge for every singer.
But first about the production itself: Uwe Eric Laufenberg transferred the plot into a cellar filled with coal, a shower and an elevator (stage: Rolf Glittenberg). The whole staging might not have been the most creative one but was acceptable in the end. I liked the costumes (Marianne Glittenberg) way more. Obviously they set everything into the beginning of the 20th century with very elegant Dresses (Klytämnestra, Chrysothemis) and interesting uniforms (Elektra, Orest, the maids). I actually have to say that staging and costumes were probably the most positive thing about the whole production because Laufenberg did not really have very creative ideas. His interpretation of the work was very one dimensional and trivial. This production does not even come close to his wonderful Ring-production in Linz. I thought it was quite a disappointment.
Not a disappointment were Mikko Franck and the orchestra (Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper) who both did a pretty good job showing the big contrasts of this marvelous piece. Here and there it could have been a little bit clearer and more detailed but overall the impression was positive in my opinion. I really liked that they were not afraid to savor the huge contrasts between orgiastic outbreaks and delicate moments.
Also the maids and servants (Simina Ivan, Aura Twarowska, Thomas Ebenstein, Marcus Pelz, Donna Ellen, Monika Bohinec, Ilseyar Khayrullova, Ulrike Helzel, Caroline Wenborne, Ildikó Raimondi, Younghee Ko, Jung Won Han, Kaya Maria Last, Cornelia Sonnleithner, Karen Schubert, Sabine Kogler) performed very well and distinctively. You could understand almost every single word and all of them gave a thrilling performance during their short appearances.
Wolfgang Bankl as Orest's guardian also performed really well and knew how to impress with his quite brief appearance. It was quite a pity that he did not have more to sing.
Norbert Ernst as Aegisth also gave a fine performance with this quite unsympathetic role which shows once more that Strauss loved to torture tenors with his roles. Nevertheless he sang it without any issues and died appropriately.
Orest himself was sung by Falk Struckmann who gave a very rough and intensive portrayal of this role. His heroic baritone voice suits this character really well with his harsh timbre and his very accentuated phrasing. I really liked his interpretation because of its uniqueness and thrillingness as well as his strong acting skills.
Not that satisfying was Gun-Brit Barkmin's Chrysothemis as replacement of Anne Schwanewilms who fell ill. Barkmin has some power in her voice but her upper register always sounds weather too high or to low. She obviously seems to have some issues with intonation which is really annoying. Also the timbre of her voice sounds shrill and thin in the upper register. What a pity, especially in this wonderful role which should be sung with a big and warm voice with a beautiful silky voice.
Better but also non really convincing was Anna Larsson as Klytämnestra. She definitely had the voice to sing this role but her portrayal (both vocally and acting) were quite one dimensional and not really thrilling. The difficulty of Klytämnestra is not the range or the stamina but the enormous demands in terms of accentuation and interpretation. Maybe her portrayal will grow with time passing by, because vocally she is a really fine singer.
Nevertheless, the Highlight of the whole production was of course Nina Stemme's debut as Elektra. Clearly, a new Elektra was born with this debut. Even though her acting skills are not as good as her vocal skills she was able to capture the audience from the first moment she started to sing. Her vocal power is enormous and from the bottom to the top of her range she has a strong and even tone. Only sometimes her vibrato tends to get too strong. Her high c's are like explosions and even in the low notes of the lower register she was able to sing over the orchestra without any problems.
Just hearing Stemme's Elektra would have been worth to see this performance and I enjoyed it from the first note to the very last in a spectacular finale. Even though the production in General was not really exciting I did not regret to have been there.
Vienna's new Elektra gets 8 stars (earned mostly by the orchestra and Nina Stemme).

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