A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

The Furies
then take up Clytemnestra’s cause and torment Orestes. In Richard
Strauss’s opera Elektra, the first of several collaborations
with his beloved librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the gods are deaf or
absent. The characters must navigate a psychological quicksand, expressed
in the elusive tonality of the score, on their own. Plagued by dark dreams,
Klytaemnestra offers up blood sacrifices in vain. Her daughter Chrysothemis
hopes to be released from her dysfunctional family by a man who will give
her children, while the grieving Elektra effaces her womanhood and waits
for Orest to satisfy her need for vengeance. It’s a terrifying world
of impossible expectations and crushing loneliness, and the best
performances of Elektra reveal this gaping horror. Last Saturday
at the Concertgebouw Markus Stenz and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic
Orchestra did just that. Their Elektra was volcanic, seething and
spitting from one terrifying eruption to the other. At the center of a
vocally strong cast was the marvelous soprano Elena Pankratova in the title

The painstaking casting typical of the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series ensured
that talented singing actors staffed the royal palace of Mycenae. The
performance had a gripping start with a terrific group of maids, led by
Alwyn Mellor’s febrile Overseer. Mezzo-soprano Cécile van de
Sant as the First Maid and Kirsten Mackinnon as the put-upon Fifth Maid
were particularly fine. Laetitia Gerards and Renate Arends were
Klytaemnestra’e glamorous attendants. Tenor James Kryshak and bass
Charles Dekeyser gave their all as the male servants and baritone Florian
Just made a vivid appearance as Orest’s tutor. The Orest of
bass-baritone Károly Szemerédy was impassive and reverberant, a
deluxe killing machine. With Stenz and his musicians afire, it isn’t
any wonder that the whole cast seemed inspired. Propelled by the precise
violence of the six percussionists, the orchestra found a middle ground
between beauty and brutality. Each crashing dissonant chord held the awful
fascination of shattering glass. Bravo to the woodwind soloists who slid
through the chromatic figures like glossy cobras.

Although mostly sensitive to the singers, Stenz could not help releasing
the floodgates at key moments, and the afternoon was all the more exciting
for it. He never overwhelmed either Pankratova or Asmik Grigorian as
Chrysothemis, but drowned out Thomas Piffka’s yells for help when his
obtuse Aegisth was slaughtered. Dalia Schaechter’s mezzo-soprano also
went under at times, but this was a small limitation to her rich
interpretation of Klytaemnestra. Schaechter inflected intelligently, fully
exploiting her instrument to color every word, every syllable even, with
meaning. At times her Klytaemenstra was almost pitiable, in spite of
hideous statements like the one comparing Elektra to a nettle sprouting
from her body. The monologue about bad dreams was fascinating, delivered
inwardly, as if the queen were drifting into a psychotic episode. Stenz
provided nightmarish orchestral support, making those cloth-eating moths
she talks about fly out as if from some hellish nest.

Elena Pankratova was vocally peerless. No part of this exacting role was
beyond her. Her velvety soprano is too beautiful to make Elektra sound like
a half-savage. Heartbreak stamped her portrayal. The repeated cries of
“Agamemnon!” in the opening monologue were a loving summons and
the reunion with Orest achingly tender. You could really hear that she was
once a replacement mother to her younger brother. This is not to say that
her Elektra lacked fierceness. It was there, a righteous anger expressed in
sumptuously swelling lines and spectacular fortes. Singing off book,
Pankratova created the illusion of mounting nervousness while moving
sparingly, stamping her foot defiantly during her fatal dance. It was a
jubilant performance, acclaimed with frenzied applause. Asmik Grigorian was
just as enthusiastically received. After her sensational Marie in Wozzeck last year, she returned to the ZaterdagMatinee for her
role debut as Chrysothemis. Defying the orchestral decibels, her steely,
platinum-clad soprano hurled raw hurt and desire at each corner of the
house. The thrills just kept coming as the sisters hit one full, lustrous
top note after another. No one who was there is ever likely to forget this
duo, Pankratova in a black gown with chiffon wings, like a priestess, and
Grigorian a proud, wounded princess in gold. They were the shining towers
atop a thundering fortress of a performance.

Jenny Camilleri

Cast and production information:

Elektra – Elena Pankratova, soprano; Chrysothemis – Asmik
Grigorian, soprano; Klytaemnestra – Dalia Schaechter, mezzo-soprano;
Orest – Károly Szemerédy, bass-baritone; Aegisth –
Thomas Piffka, tenor; Orest’s Tutor – Florian Just, baritone;
Klytaemnestra’s Confidante – Laetitia Gerards, soprano;
Klytaemnestra’s Trainbearer – Renate Arends, soprano; Young
Servant – James Kryshak, tenor; Old Servant – Charles Dekeyser,
bass; Overseer – Alwyn Mellor, soprano; Maid 1 – Cécile
van de Sant, mezzo-soprano; Maid 2 – Iris van Wijnen, mezzo-soprano;
Maid 3 – Jelena Kordić, mezzo-soprano; Maid 4 – Lisette
Bolle, soprano; Maid 5 – Kirsten Mackinnon, soprano. Conductor
– Markus Stenz. Netherlands Radio Choir (Groot Omroepkoor).
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Heard at the Concertgebouw,
Amsterdam, on Saturday, 2nd of June, 2018.

image_description=Orestes, Electra and Hermes at the tomb of Agamemnon, lucanian red-figure pelike, c. 380-370 BC, Louvre (K 544) [Source: Wikipedia]
product_title=A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic
product_by=A review by Jenny Camilleri
product_id=Above: Orestes, Electra and Hermes at the tomb of Agamemnon, lucanian red-figure pelike, c. 380-370 BC, Louvre (K 544) [Source: Wikipedia]