Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sandra Bullock as Elektra and Deborah Voigt as Chrysothemis [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
18 Dec 2009

Elektra at the Met

The roles Richard Strauss composed for his “chorus” of Five Serving Maids in Elektra — all that remains in the opera of the commentator chorus in Sophocles’ tragedy — are short but arduous.

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Elektra: Susan Bullock; Chrysothemis: Deborah Voigt; Klytemnestra: Felicity Palmer; Orest: Evgeny Nikitin; Aegisth: Wolfgang Schmidt; A Young Servant: John Easterlin; Tutor: Oren Gradus; Five Serving Maids: Kathryn Day, Heidi Melton, Maria Zifchak, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jennifer Check. Conducted by Fabio Luisi. Metropolitan Opera, performance of December 15.

Above: Sandra Bullock as Elektra and Deborah Voigt as Chrysothemis

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

Full-scale power over a huge orchestra is demanded of them, and the parts are often given, like Valkyries or Rhinemaidens, to budding dramatic sopranos. That being understood and the brevity of the parts being acknowledged, still, it is not a good sign when three or four of the maids have louder, more focused, more credibly heroic voices than either Elektra or Chrysothemis. But such was the case at the Met on December 15.

The Elektra was Susan Bullock, who was unable to bring the requisite force to this endurance contest of a part. We must be grateful to any soprano who can simply get through it, but any pressure seemed to push her vibrato wide open, and the whole performance was thin and squally, never vocally overwhelming and uninformed by any vision of Elektra’s personality. Her acting, too, was graceless, which may suit the bedraggled nature of a princess in the mire, but Bullock spent most of the evening staring at the conductor or waving an axe about the stage, and she made little of the dancing, a tricky bit for any Elektra.

Deborah Voigt, in distressing vocal estate, sang Chrysothemis, and never have the two sisters seemed so well-matched, so related: neither of them could bring full force to her music, and they bickered like kittens when the matter under discussion is how they are to murder their mother. Not until the triumphant final scene did Voigt give forth a few of the radiant notes that were once a feature of her Strauss singing. Perhaps it’s just as well the Met shelved the originally scheduled revival of Die Frau ohne Schatten, once a Voigt signature.

ELEKTRA_Palmer_1905.pngFelicity Palmer as Klytemnestra

The appearance of Felicity Palmer as Klytemnestra came as a great relief. Palmer cannot manage hurricane force either, but she had something more: a highly focused conception of the character. Her voice seemed dull, drably colored, as if by the bad dreams and lack of sleep she sings about, and then color crept in as Elektra goaded her with false hopes and conundrums. Gaunt and frail but vigorously flailing her staff, she made a striking figure, terrifying for the example of her fate.

Evgeny Nikitin’s bass-baritone possesses the size and dignity for Orest, but his singing was grainy rather than ominous on this occasion. Wolfgang Schmidt sang an unusually sturdy Aegisth — the role is usually a caricature — and John Easterlin was impressive in the small role of the arrogant servant sent to fetch him.

The tilted Otto Schenk production grows on one with time — its unnerving angles intentionally set the teeth on edge as we meet this most famously dysfunctional of families. I liked David Kneuss’s direction, but I’d like it better if the singers sang to each other now and then, if Elektra didn’t wave her axe like a cheerleader, and if the Overseer did not crack her whip only to have the Serving Maids pay no attention. Surely they would shut up when the whip cracked, if indeed the Overseer were the fearsome creature intended? In which case, the whip cracks should be timed for those few moments in their scene when the maids are about to shut up.

The hero of the night was Fabio Luisi in the pit, a masterful Strauss conductor who spared us nothing of the brutality of this devastating score but at the same time was always careful never to contest the air with his singers, holding the turbulence down so that vocal lines were clear. Underpowered some of them might be, drowned out never. Such courtesy and skill have not always been featured by conductors of Elektra.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):