Sunday, June 27, 2010

Brilliantly sung Elektra in Baden Baden: Jane Henschel rocks, Thielemann at his best

Elektra is one of my absolute favorite operas, and the Martin Kusej's production that you can find on DVD is to me the best production of this opera ever, and one of my most memorable operatic experiences. It's excellently sung, marvelously played, and the universal thread of this drama is perfectly projected to our time: a dysfunctional family background made Elektra to be the way she is -- a dysfunctional angry person-- living in a nasty suburb. Viewed through that prism the story of Elektra speaks to us on so many different levels, question our attitudes, our certainties and our points of view. In doing so Kusej never  made Elektra look like a monster, which is unfortunately the most often image projected by unintelligent directors... OK, I shouldn't go too far in praising Kusej, but if you get to see that DVD -- it's a gem.

Final scene from Wernicke's production of Elektra in Baden Baden

In spite of that overwhelming production, I am always glad to see a new take on  Elektra, especially if it's well sung and/or offers something new, either orchestrally or scenically, like it was the case this year in Brussels in the Guy Joosten's production. Since I've seen many productions of Elektra, I lost that childish fascination and am unfortunately often picky about details and question the coherence of portrayal of personalities and their dramatic interaction...

Elektra of the year 2010 should be the one in Salzburg and Yours Truly will be there ;)

Now, why I talk about Elektra? I saw on Arte last night a revival of the famous Herbert Wernicke production, live broadcast from Baden Baden last Monday, June 21,  on Arte.  [it's not viewable outside of France and Germany -- just in case, try this link ]

Jane Henschel as Klytaemnestra - Elektra in Baden Baden, June 2010

Wernicke's theatrical vein is kinda precursor of what you'd expect to see from Robert Wilson -- at least in Elektra. It's filled with vacuous aesthetics and very little is make to build a true drama among characters. It pretty much fails to depict the interaction among characters which is a problem as the characters themselves are mostly defined through that interaction. Somehow, in the end, you're left with a feeling that the whole show is rough/unfinished: that's especially the case with the relation between Elektra and Klytaemnestra, the latter being gloriously sung and acted by Jane Henschel, who dominates otherwise wonderful set of singers. Little that comes out from this too aesthetic and dramatically weakish production, is that the whole drama is about a desire for power, and even Elektra is greedy and it becomes blurred whether she's willing to kill everyone to get on the throne or because she's driven by the rage of her father being killed. Only Chrysothemis escape this portrayal... OK, you can go down that road, and it's a valid approach, but to me it leaves Elektra too ambiguous, blurred, and eventually less relevant in the whole drama...

The sets are often in complete contradiction with what's written, with what's sung or sculpted orchestrally.  That's why I said it reminds you of Strauss staged by Bob Wilson.

The interest in this production to me lies in absolutely superb singing: Jane Henschel is perfect-perfect-perfect [never did I see anyone sing or act this role as well -- not even close!], Manuela Uhl smashing as Chrysothemis [I saw her in Berlin (DOB) last year, she was great and got even better since], and Linda Watson is a superb Elektra -- she never overdoes it. She never shouts or screams which is often a trouble with this role. Yet she doesn't keep the role to tamed either. Just superb! The male singers were all excellent too.
Linda Watson as Elektra in Baden Baden - June 2010

Even if I am not a big fan of Christian Thielemann, I must give it to him: this was awesome Elektra. He chiseled every tone to perfection our of the fantastic Münchner Philharmonikers. After you listen to this so elated orchestration you cannot but feel sorry for not being able to be there and listen to it in person.

 conductor   Christian Thielemann
director   Herbert Wernicke

Linda Watson  
Jane Henschel  
Manuel Uhl  
Albert Dohmen  
René Kollo  

Münchner Philharmoniker

I found a couple of YT videos, for you who cannot see the whole opera (still available on Arte website):

Enjoy Mauela Uhl's Chrysothemis

and Linda Watson's Allein, Weh ganz allein

1 comment:

  1. You shouldn't forget that Wernicke died in 2002, so there's probably little of his own acting direction : the staging dates back from 1997, which is typical for Thielemann's taste : a good director is a dead director...