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Blu-ray Review

Richard Strauss


  • Elektra - Evelyn Herlitzius
  • Klytämnestra - Waltraud Meier
  • Chrysothemis - Adrianne Pieczonka
  • Orest - Mikhail Petrenko
  • Aegisth - Tom Randle
  • Der Pfleger des Orest - Franz Mazura
  • Ein junger Diener - Florian Hoffmann
  • Ein alter Diener - Donald McIntyre
  • Die Aufseherin/Die Vertraute - Renate Behle
  • Erste Magd - Bonita Hyman
  • Zweite Magd/Die Schleppträgerin - Andrea Hill
  • Dritte Magd - Silvia Hablowetz
  • Vierte Magd - Marie-Eve Munger
  • Fünfte Magd - Roberta Alexander
Coro Gulbenkian
Orchestre de Paris/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Stage Director - Patrice Chereau
Set Designer - Richard Peduzzi
Lighting Designer - Dominique Bruguière
Recorded at the Festival Aix-en-Provence - July, 2013
Bonus - Interview with Stage Director Patrice Chereau
BelAir Classiques Blu-ray BAC410 111m + 23m PCM Stereo DTS HD Master
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from Find it at JPC
Also available on DVD BAC110:
Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - JPC

This production of Strauss's operatic shocker, Elektra, was the big hit at the 2013 Aix-en-Provence Festival. Its success has largely been attributed to the stage direction of Patrice Chéreau, who died a few months after the festival, and the conducting of Esa-Pekka Salonen. But of course the singers were also acclaimed for their contributions to this splendid effort. Chéreau delivers a fairly civil staging of this opera, turning away from its blood-curdling aspects and focusing more on the plentiful psychological characteristics. Everything about the production is subtle: no attempt is made to shock, as for once the viewer sees a rather straightforward rendering of the story about this abjectly dysfunctional family from the Hugo von Hofmannsthal play, which was of course based on the Sophocles tragedy.

This may well be the finest Elektra on video. I've reviewed two others here: in 2011 I wrote a notice for the Danielle Gatti-led Arthaus Musik Blu-ray production starring Iréne Theorin as Elektra (Arthaus Musik Blu-ray 101560), and in 2007 I reviewed the Christoph von Dohnányi-led TDK DVD with Eva Johansson in the title role (TDK DVD DVWW-OPELEK). Both were fine efforts but are cleared surpassed by this new Blu-ray from Bel Air Classique. By the way, for those unfamiliar with the story, I have a pretty good plot synopsis in the Arthaus Musik review referenced above.

In this new effort sets are modest; the rather bland-looking structures on stage looking like concrete, with stone steps reaching to a second level. The story is updated to modern times, with Elektra barefoot and dressed in grubby slacks and tattered jersey tank shirt. Most of the other female characters are dressed casually, except for Klytämnestra, who is clad in an attractive gown. Surprisingly, she behaves relatively normally, despite her murderous nature. Waltraud Meier portrays her brilliantly here, and both Adrianne Pieczonka as Chrysothemis and Mikhail Petrenko as Orest are also splendid. But, make no mistake about it, the star of the show is Evelyn Herlitzius as Elektra. She is crazed and obsessed in a convincing way, becoming quite real in her over-the-top fanaticism. Herlitzius sings beautifully too, and with such dramatic skill: try her Orest! Orest! Es rührt sich niemand! (track 13). The rest of the cast is quite fine as well.

Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the proceedings with somewhat brisk tempos and a deft sense for building tension. He draws excellent playing from the Orchestre de Paris. One or two minor issues – I'm just curious why archaic English subtitles (thee, thou, doth, etc.) are given in a production that is set in modern times? Also, why do those subtitles sometimes appear so briefly, almost requiring you to be a speed reader? Camera work is excellent, as are the picture clarity and sound reproduction. On almost all counts then, this is a huge success, an utterly memorable performance and a must for Strauss and opera mavens. Highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings