Monday, August 9, 2010

Salzburg 2010: Une Elektra électrisante

Look how the city of Salzburg was getting ready for the premiere! One of many banners all over the city...

Elektra, August 8 2010, Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg

Daniele Gatti ..... Conductor
Nikolaus Lehnhoff ..... Stage Director

Waltraud Meier ..... Klytämnestra
Iréne Theorin ..... Elektra
Eva-Maria Westbroek ..... Chrysothemis
Robert Gambill ..... Aegisth
René Pape .....Orest
Oliver Zwarg ..... Orest's Tutor

Vienna Philharmonic
Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus

I didn't plan to go to see the premiere, (a) because I went today to see the last show of  Dionysos, and (b) I didn't have one of the expensive tickets for the premiere [but I do have a ticket for the second show, Thursday, Aug 12]. Unexpectedly, I was offered a top class seat that I simply couldn't resist, so here is your first fresh review of the Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production of Elektra in Salzburg. 

The production is exactly as Lehnhoff has described it in his short note which I've quoted in my previous entry. A slightly ex-centered and slanted cubic concrete structure is the way the stage looks like and that's the unique set where the entire action occurs, and which in fact depict the mental state of Electra. There are holes in the walls -- through which the external voices come to her. Her world is, of course, focused on the idea of killing her mother and thus avenging her dead father, Agamemnon. To make contact with Agamemnon, Lehnhoff introduced a fetish coat that Elektra will cherish and wears from time to tome -- in fact each time any doubt would creep in, the coat would remind her of her mission. The coat is obviously Agamemnon's. When Orestes eventually finishes his job, and Clytemnestra is dead hanging like a carcass of a cow, Electra --instead of dancing-- approaches Orestes and put their father's coat on his [Orestes'] shoulders. 
The coat is there for Clytemnestra too, when she believes her own peace depends on her relation to the same coat [she can't fall asleep, and when she does she suffers from terrible nightmares...], as if that coat is a materialization of her bad conscience.  Chrysothemis too comes to wrap herself in the coat in her moment of despair -- when she believed Orestes was dead and she would remain captured forever. 
The idea of coat as a fetish of what Agamemnon means to each of the characters is fine and works well. 

In the end, with the death of Electra, the crows of death pop out from all the holes, invade the stage and stop Orestes from escaping -- suggesting that his life too is accomplished, and he too has no reason to live after both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus are dead. 

It's therefore a typical Lehnhoff staging --  one interesting idea relating all the pieces together, but it all remains somewhat dry, incomplete... The crowd of incredibly many very rich looking people --which included the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband--  loved the Lehnhoff's show. To be honest,  I was on the edge to boo, not because I particularly disliked the show -- it's OK, but it's nowhere close to Kusej's gem!-- but rather because one fraction of that same crowd booed Daniele Gatti. In my humble opinion, Gatti and the orchestra were GLORIOUS. I thought he would opt for a slower pace like he did in Parsifal the day before, but he didn't. It was the ordinary timing but he exacerbated a few lyric elements of the score: e.g. the episode with Electra being ashamed of her looks when Orestes recognized her was particularly moving. As for the rest he would let the orchestra occasionally rise in volume to the maximum. Before the arrival of Clytemnestra was the orchestra was shaking the house. But as soon as Waltraud Meier  opened her mouth the Wiener Philharmoniker were perfectly tamed. If one really wanted to look for something marginally problematic, then that would be the musical intermezzo when Orestes was killing Aegisthus. The orchestra was boiling and you couldn't hear the word from poor Robert Gambill, who was apparently screaming --together with surtitles--  "It's a murder!" To boo this extraordinary orchestral performance of Elektra and yell "Bravo!" to one idea by Lehnhoff, it's enraging! OK, I of course didn't boo, I appreciated the Lehnhoff's show, and the large majority of us applauded Gatti -- so it's all fine...

What about the singers!? They all received enthusiastic ovations which they totally deserved. Eva Maria Westbroek's Chrysothemis was out of this world. Was there any other singer singing this role with such a perfect dramatic poise and with such a beautiful velvety voice and all that with such a high volume that easily filled up the Grosses Festspielhaus?! I very much doubt it!

Iréne Theorin is one of my fave singers too: I admired her Brunnhilde in the Copenhagen Ring [to me that remains the best Ring produced so far], and I very much liked her Isolde in Copehagen. Elektra is a different kind of role: it's tough, and in this particular production it is extra-tough because Electra doe not leave the stage at any moment of the whole show. I don't see how she could hide a bottle of water in this "Atomic Shelter"-looking sets. So her endurance is tested big time and she's the winner of the evening! During the whole performance Iréne NEVER screamed -- which is (1) a rare thing to see among today's Elektra's, and (2) difficult to resist as the score begs you to scream at least twice. BRAVA!
René Pape was wonderful too. OK, his role is not big, but his presence was definitely remarkable both vocally and scenically. His voice is broad and cuddling, yet dark and threatening -- a combination that  perfectly suites Orestes in this production. Aegisthus by Robert Gambill was good, but the role is so secondary/episodic for his (Tannhauserian) profile that it remains a mystery to me why he accepted it in the first place...

And finally a luxurious Clytemnestra by Waltraud Meier was, of course, wonderful, although it sounded and looked a bit youngish for the role -- Jane Henschel recently did a marvelous job in singing this role in Baden Baden . I guess Waltraud would be capable of singing Elektra too.

So, all in all, it is a brilliantly sung Elektra with the orchestra  doing a fantastic job too -- I don't know how much of it it will be transmitted via radio broadcast but I bet it will sound wonderfully.  

I remind you that there the radio broadcast is scheduled for August 21 at 19:30 (cet) on this link.

A few pics from the Salzburg Festival's web-site:

Elektra wearing her father's coat -- Clytemnestra behind her

Elektra begging Chrysothemis to kill their mother (both thinking Orestes was dead)

Orestes after killing his mother (who's hanging/hooked behind him)

and several  pics I took at the premiere:

Inside the Grosses Festspielhaus...

 13€/glass (they serve a Mozart-marzipan chocolate with it - sic!)

Inside the auditorium...

To give you an idea about the stage-looks: I wasn't too far to be able to capture the whole stage (which is particularly wide in Salzburg) The feathery creatures btw are the crows or death...

Eva Maria Westbroek and Robert Gambill

René Pape and Waltraud Meier

Iréne Theorin and Eva Maria Westbroek (the only pic where I managed to sort-of capture Iréne!) 

Lehnhoff is next to Waltraud Meier and Gatti to Iréne Theorin

 This is how it looks in front of the Grosses Festspielhaus right after the premiere: loaded with black  cars... It started to rain the minute we got out of the theater....

 This is maybe a better angle to see a whole car-park of black Mercedes's...  I obviously couldn't take the photo of numerous security people... 

 This pic is cut from "Daily": Westbroek, Theorin and Meier with Jurgen Flimm


  1. Elektra after Dionysus: that is pretty hard-core!
    I loved Audi's effort a lot more than Lehnhoff's, but no real complaints with a cast like that. Looking forward to your review of Lulu, although I suspect we might disagree!

  2. Theorin looks amazing in this last photo.

    The lineup of mercedes cars, on the other hand, obnoxious. I didn't know that the German Kanzlerin moved around in motorcades. If that one was hers, that is.

  3. Cloudin are you in town? Will I see you at the Trebs' show tonight?

    Definitely, the lineup of Mercedes doesn't look THAT bad. First time you experience all this parade of creator-dresses, Hugo Boss suites and bow-ties, Taittinger and what-not, it's fun! Second time, it becomes heavy and especially when you see some of those guys booing Gatti for not going for the rigid reading of the score... all the fun about the chic part disappears.

    Iréne looks great!

  4. Yes, I'm in Salzburg for a while! But at the moment, I'm sorry to say, I am unlikely to hear the glorious cast for Romeo & Juliet (not quite so sorry to miss Sher's non-effort! ;-)
    Hope it is as wonderful as it promises!

  5. Right on CT! Sher's production is kinda Zeffirelli's heritage but on the hugely vast stage of the Felsenreitschule the quantity of kitch is dissolved. OK if the cast wasn't this big I'd be certainly spitting fire here [or I wouldn't have gone to see it at all!] :)

    Tonight Lulu! YAY :)

  6. Thanks for the review and pictures! I'm a huge Theorin fan and we've had her here in Washington DC the past few season. We'll get her right after the Elektra for a few performances in Un Ballo in Maschera. Any word on if this production will be televised or is it just the radio broadcast? It seems like such a stellar cast!

  7. Hi Chelsea! ;)

    No, apparently they didn't want any video of the production to leak, which usually means they want to release a DVD after this run. So sometimes next year (if not even for the Christmas holidays) you may expect DVD to show up.

    Theorin was just your perfect Elektra. I don't want to rub it in but I actually have the ticket for the second show too. So I'll go to see [or better, to listen to] the show again tomorrow evening.

    I saw in the program that Iréne will be singing in Washinton, then she comes back to Isolde in Tokyo and Copenhagen, then Kundry at ENO in London, and then Brunnhilde in Milan and Berlin (Barenboim Ring). Then she will be Turandot (sic!) in Munich, San Francisco, London and New York, and finally again Elektra in London and Paris :)

  8. I would certainly welcome a DVD of this production with this cast! If you hear any news of a release, please let us know.

    Enjoy the performance tonight! I must admit, I am a little jealous... :)

    I've had the good fortune of meeting Theorin, and she's a lovely woman. I'm so glad that she's enjoying a successful run.

  9. Thanks a lot for the wonderful review! I think this Elektra is the hot opera event of the Summer.

    I hope they release a DVD! Any radio broadcast expected?

    I link the post on twitter ;)

  10. Thanks Chelsea and sorry for this belated reply. Did you see Iréne as Brünnhilde in the Copenhagen Ring? BRILLIANT

    Thanks Operatweets! I asked if the show was filmed and if they plan to release it on DVD. They answered Yes & Yes but they wouldn't say anything about the release date.

  11. Good news about the DVD! Thanks for sharing that info.

    I have not seen the Copenhagen Ring yet. It's on my list of operas I need to get my hands on. Your vote of confidence has me heading over to Amazon right now to check pricing/availability. I heard she was stellar. I have the Bayreuth Tristan und Isolde that she’s in. The staging is interesting, but I found Theorin’s performance to be rather amazing.

  12. Elektra is going to be webcast tomorrow (Saturday), which of course I won't be missing.