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Performances

Elektra (Evelyn Herlitzius) and Orest (Michael Volle) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus]
03 Dec 2016

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Elektra (Evelyn Herlitzius) and Orest (Michael Volle) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus]

 

She electrified the audience for Patrice Chéreau's production, debuting in Berlin. In 2013, she starred in the world premiere of Chéreau's staging in Aix-en-Provence. His In an exhilarating experience, Daniel Barenboim and his Staatskapelle Berlin illuminated with thunderous brilliance the psychological tempest in Richard Strauss’ Elektra. The high quality ingredients of this evening led to an experience that was more than the sum of its monumental parts.

In front of the entrance to Theater Unter den Linden, an unusual amount of people searched for tickets. In the last minute queue, folks bickered about their place in line. Just picking up a ticket required enduring an intense stare from determined fanatics. With Herlitzius singing and Barenboim at the helm, Strauss’s late-Romantic blockbuster turned into the hottest ticket in town.

Chéreau's unadorned staging displays the psychological drama in Strauss’s music.

Surrounded by columns and arches in grey blue hues, the actors filled the stage with tension. The set was not meant to impress the eye; instead, the staging allows the psychological drama to fill in the void. As a force of nature, Herlitzius vocally and dramatically demanded attention. Barenboim’s Strauss saturated Chéreau's space with a silvery aura.

Herlitzius enthralled the audience with her flexible voice. Her sound fueled Elektra’s grand desire for revenge. She conveyed Elektra’s vulnerability in nostalgia, wreaked vocal havoc with scorching distrust, and let, above all, her maddening lust for revenge prevail. In her expressive mannerisms, Herlitzius added a visual component to her character’s mythological agita. She scratched her skin feverishly, like a heroine addict. And yet she was never ridiculous in her frenziness. Chéreau directs this lust into Elektra’s behavior: in each familial interaction, Herlitzius charged her character with a suggestively incestuous sexuality.... truly out of control.

Herlitzius served up a dramatic climax at the end: when hearing Klytaemnestra scream as Orestes kills her, a fiery flicker of gratification flashes in Elektra’s eyes. After all her anger and despair, that brief moment of satisfaction on Herlitzius’s face demonstrated how sharp an actress she is.

When Chrysothemis’s argued with Elektra, Adrianne Pieczonka formed a precious contrast to Herlitzius’ darker voice. Her character’s naivety and relentless optimism flourished in Pieczonka’s intonation. Very light and very bright. Her voice offered the audience a brief respite from Elektra’s hellbent revenge. As well as in her own shrieking, she became a vital element in all the Straussian hysteria.

Singing persuasively, Waltraud Meier cloaked Klytaemnestra in an air of indifference. Supported by brass and percussion, Elektra’s stepmother had a showstopper with her spectacular entrance. Her sins were hidden in a shroud of mystery. Did she really kill Agamemnon? I was baffled to hear boos amongst the cheers for her. Stephan Rügamer fleshed out Aegisth’s eerie and foolish qualities. With his chilling, determined diction foreshadowing his kill, Michael Volle’s Orest proved formidable in his duet with Elektra.

Dense, thick, loud, but never overbearing. Barenboim balanced the powerful music in extraordinary detail. At the false news of Orest’s death, the strings mourned with somber brilliance. Without interruption, Barenboim’s thrilling momentum captured all the frenzy and suspense in Strauss’s music. He created interesting psychological atmospheres out of Strauss’s wicked tonality. It was wonderful to be swept away in the madness of this horror opera.

David Pinedo

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