STRAUSS : Elektra

This production focusses on the opera as the drama of a horribly
dysfunctional family. Murderous they may be, but they’re still recognisably
human, not stereotypes. Elektra isn’t just a raving madwoman but someone with
whom we can readily identify. Dressed in a hoodie and fingerless gloves,
she’s the punky rebel we’ve all encountered. That probably says something
disturbing about the society in which we live, but it’s all the more reason
for listening to this interpretation.

G?tz Freidrich’s visualisation of the B?hm production was so powerful
that it’s hard to shake images of Rysenek and Varney, haunted and distraught,
emerging from a murky background. Perhaps this new production is a conscious
effect to break away, for the Z?rich production is lit so harshly that it
hurts, achieving an oppressive effect by opposite means. The very ground
beneath the singers undulates, underlining the shaky foundations of
Klytemnestra’s power. Holes in the floor provide burrows in which Elektra can
hide, like a feral beast. Like abused children, she’s had no support, and
hardship has taken its toll.

This production places some emphasis on social commentary. Doors open and
close along barren corridors, as if the palace were a hotel. I doubt that
Kuöej knowingly made the connection, but Klytemnestra and Aegisthus are
indeed the type who think morals apply ìonly to little peopleî. The
contemporary focus also brings out interesting secondary themes. Elektra and
Chrysothemis represent completely different ways of coping with the family
trauma, and by extension, illustrate the choices open to women in society.
This is in the libretto and in the music, so it’s not inappropriate and is
not, in any case, overdone.

More developed, though, is the production’s fascination with sexual
ambiguity. The story wouldn’t have happened in the first place if were it not
for Aegisthus and Klytemnesrra having an illicit relationship, so there’s
clearly a sexual undercurrent. Yet Elektra’s identification with her father
and brother goes deeper than anger at her father’s death. The scene in which
she buries the apparition of a little blond girl ties in psychologically with
her revulsion at being touched by Orestes and the frisson with which she
imagines her sister’s marriage. Her kind of madness would have fascinated
Freud, and the wordly circles in which Strauss moved. But what do we make of
the naked young men who flit across the stage in suspender belts and lipstick
? Or the butch mistress who manages the maidservants ? Or Aegisthus with so
much rouge ? Definitely these things contribute to the idea of a court where
aberration rules, but the scene in which half the cast turns up in feather
tutus is a bit beyond me. It’s certainly spectacular, though, and a visual
release after all that repression .

Eva Johanssen convinces as this conflicted Elektra because she’s a good
actress, the subtlety of her portrayal captured better on film through
close-ups and quick cuts than would come over in stage performance. Vocally,
her range is more restricted, but this is not a role that requires
prettiness. Just as Elektra had to hold out alone for years, awaiting
vengeance, Johanssen’s part heroically supports the whole opera. She creates
the character even when she’s not actually singing. Lipovöek’s Klytemnestra
is surprisingly sympathetic. She uses the natural roundness in her voice to
balance the harshness inherent in the role. Klytemnestra has bad dreams, so
she does have a conscience, not at that far from the surface. In comparison,
Deiner, Muff and Schasching have relatively straight forward parts. The
dialogues, such as between the sisters, and later when Elektra faces off
Aegisthus, come over clearly. A pleasant surprise was Sen Gou. It’s probably
back handed compliment to single out one of the maids in a chorus, but her
role is more important than it might seem, for she’s the maid who defends
Elektra when all the others condemn her. This maid, like Elektra herself, is
ìalleinî and suffers for being an individual. Sen Gou’s personality and
singing definitely stood out. I also liked the orchestral playing, for
Dohnanyi’s lucid style did not submerge the spartan angularities in the
music. Even when he’s evoking the wild abandon of the final dance, his clear
vision respects the modernity in Strauss’s orchestration. This new production
certainly won’t supplant the B?hm on DVD, but it’s an approach which
enhances the opera as a human drama.

Anne Ozorio

image_description=Richard Strauss: Elektra
product_title=Richard Strauss: Elektra
product_by=Eva Johansson (soprano) : Elektra, Marjana Lipovöek.(mezzo-soprano): Klytemnestra, Melanie Diener (soprano) : Chrysothemis, Alfred Muff (baritone) Orest, , Rudolf Schasching (tenor) : Aegisthus, Chor des Opernhauses Z¸rich, Orchester der Opernhaus Z¸rich, Martin Kuöej (Stage Director), Christoph von Dohnnanyi (conductor) Z¸rich 2005
product_id=TDK DVWW-OPELEK [DVD]