Royal Opera House
6 October 2013
Director Charles Edwards, and some of the 2008 cast, discuss the work. From here.
Some momentum goes missing in this performance, but it brings out the beauty of the score.
Strauss seems to have felt this opera and Salome could be performed with grace and lightness of touch, which seems especially odd in this jackhammer work. Conductor Andris Nelsons came close but I found his slow, transparent direction enervating despite it also being illuminating.
The programme contains essays describing various psychological aspects of the work, the myth and hatred in general. While these are interesting, they have only tangential relevance to this piece, and are reductionist.
If Elektra hates her mother Klytämnestra, this is more than reciprocated by a woman who also knows that her son is engaged in a life-and-death struggle with her. The relationship between the heroine and her sister Chrysothemis seems more complex than sibling rivalry – in expressionistic fashion, they reflect different sides of a whole, so that their antagonism is due less to their being related and more to do with contrasting approaches to their appalling situation.
Much of the original mythic background was removed by Hofmannsthal in his libretto, but Agamemnon’s violent death, his wife’s extreme cruelty and the disturbing revenge fantasies of their children are all too vividly realised for this to refer to passions you or I might readily share. These are heroic passions.
Elektra’s sudden death is poetically right, even if implausible. From the very start of her opening monologue (even before), the Agamemnon-motif makes it clear how all-or-nothing she has become, and this obsessive sense only weakens slightly following the recognition scene with her brother Orest, when she starts falling in love with the nostalgias, to music redolent of Salome.
Which music, of course, also suggests that obsession will return, and it does. What use has Elektra of life after she achieves her revenge? The all-consuming nature of her desires, and their almost unbelievable intensity, eventually kill her, though we aren’t sure that a life has been wasted, which may preclude tragedy.
So I suspect the appropriate approach to this work is to surrender to its tremendous visceral impact. Even a relatively muted performance as this one couldn’t fully blunt that.
The singers seemed fully in line with Nelsons, generally creating beautiful sounds and exploiting a huge dynamic range. Above all, Christine Goerke in the title role gave a committed performance, and generated a remarkable variety of tones. If the role perhaps requires greater hysteria, it’s hard to expect a singer to run risks with her voice.
Charles Edwards’ production was an unobtrusive updating to the 1920s, producing a suitably expressionistic feel. Unobtrusive, that is, apart from one blunder. For some reason a corpse kept moving around the stage, a distracting and bathetic idea.
Otherwise, he obtained fine, repulsive acting from everyone,