Elektra, Richard Strauss
Elektra, Richard Strauss, Deutsche Oper Berlin, April 2016. Director Kirsten Harms (revival director: Claudia Gotta), Das Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin conducted by Donald Runnicles. Reviewed by Tony Cooper
A thrilling and adventurous piece of composing, Strauss’ one-act opera Elektra – staged as part of a five-day festival devoted to Richard Strauss by Deutsche Oper – was the first of the composer’s collaborations with the librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
A work well known for its abrasive music and flights into atonality, it is a difficult and musically complex piece and the role of Elektra (Agamemnon’s avenging daughter) requires a singer with grit, determination and stamina.
Not only is it a physically-demanding role it is an emotionally-charged one and Evelyn Herlitzius delivered a performance of a lifetime. She was on stage for the opera’s duration of 145 minutes and this production confirms her status as one of the finest exponents of Elektra working the international opera circuit today. She was delighted by her reception – rightly so.
Kept a prisoner in the courtyard of Agamemnon’s palace in Mycenae, Elektra controls her emotions and expressions, waiting for her moment of revenge.
Elektra’s confrontation with Klytaemnestra (Doris Soffel) was an engaging and forceful scene. She menacingly teases and cajoles her murderous mother while wielding an axe and pinpointing her weaknesses and guilt, mocking her lover, Aegisth, sung by Clemens Bieber.
The scene in which Klytaemnestra confides to her daughter that she has been suffering nightmares of being killed by her own son but has still has not found the way to appease the Gods was portrayed by Ms Soffel – attired in a blood-red cloak, the only hint of colour in a very dark production – in a nervous and anxious manner showing the insecurity and feebleness of her character.
Elektra’s recognition of her brother, Orest (Tobias Kehrer) provided a tender and quiet moment with the two staring longingly and lovingly at each other. Ms Herlitzius revealed here the quality, range and, indeed, serene beauty of her voice.
Manuela Uhl gave a fine performance as Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis, playing her role in a meek and mild manner. She did not protest or exact vengeance against her mother for her amorous adventures – all she wanted was an easy life longing to escape the family feud.
The stakes were high, though, when Elektra demanded her help in avenging their father’s death. She praised her beauty promising that she would be her servant in her bridal chamber in exchange for her help. But sisterly love ended there. Chrysothemis remained obstinate to the core.
In the end, Orest carried out Elektra’s bidding. He murdered his mother and butchered her lover, Aegisth. On hearing the news of their deaths, Elektra breaks into a grin and dances the dance of death.
Overall, a brilliant production and Bernd Damovsky’s dark and foreboding set reflected the essence of the brooding and unsettled nature of the opera while in the pit Donald Runnicles (Deutsche Oper’s outstanding music director) captured Strauss’ richly-textured and atmospheric score in this vast auditorium with its excellent acoustic.
Tony Cooper has been working across the field of publishing and the arts for a number of years writing mainly for Archant newspaper group based in his home city of Norwich. Nowadays, he focuses on opera and classical music. He greatly admires the works of Richard Strauss and Wagner