At Covent Garden the Royal Opera’s revival of Charles Edwards’ production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra this September is amazingly powerful. Written for Dresden in 1909 and outdoing in horror and murder his scandalous Salome of 4 years earlier, Strauss produced a masterpiece of Grand Guignol theatre which Edwards has reincarnated for a 21st century audience. It is a one-act 110 minute tour de force.
Set in a run-down, devastated, fantasy palace covering 2 millennia of styles with costumes and décor to match, it is peopled with women (ideal Straussian vocal territory) fretting with and for the highly disturbed and coldly vengeful Elektra mourning her father Agamemnon’s death (at the hands of her mother, Klytämnestra and her lover Aegisth). She awaits the return of her brother Orest, with whom she plans to wreak vengeance on the murderers, and without whom she seems Hamlet-like, to be procrastinating. But return he does, and they do – and more. Greek tragedy, no holds barred! There is and will be no peace in this palace.
Elektra is marvellously sung and acted by Christine Goerke who has tremendous power and decibels but also purity of tone and variety of expression – a rare voice indeed, and the best interpreter of the role I have heard since Birgit Nilsson. Her one strong wish reflected strongly and rhythmically in the music is to dance in honour around her father’s avenged image. Her bitter anger and frustration prior to Orest’s arrival are frightening. Her more conventional sister, Chrysothemis, hoping for marriage and worldly rewards as a princess, is sung gorgeously by Adrianne Pieczonka with real lyricism and with volume to spare. The wicked Queen mother, Klytämnestra – Michaela Schuster who sang Venus here not too long ago – stunningly and fearfully completes the fabulous trio of female leads. The two men of the piece – Orest sung and acted superbly by
Iain Paterson dark of mien and voice, and Aegisth also excellently done by John Daszak – spice up the violent mix.
The orchestra of the ROH provide the necessary highly charged force and their playing under Andris Nelsons, who achieves wonders of sound, ideally enacts Strauss’s hugely colourful but often delicate orchestration. The energy from the pit is at one with the supercharged onstage action. In spite of all the gore it was a supremely satisfying evening at the opera. The Royal Opera has done it again following their recent magnificent Turandot.
Dr Richard Regan