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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, November 2011

Strauss operas on Blu-ray are always a cause for celebration, none more so than this live performance from Salzburg. Joining a stellar cast is conductor Daniele Gatti… Throw in a production directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff and the stage is set for a riveting performance of this blood-dimm’d blockbuster. Read complete review



Michael Scott Rohan
BBC Music Magazine, October 2011

STRAUSS, R.: Elektra (Salzburg Festival, 2010) (NTSC) 101559
STRAUSS, R.: Elektra (Salzburg Festival, 2010) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 101560

This Salzburg production is one of the best Elektras available on DVD



Arthur Lintgen
Fanfare, September 2011

Nikolaus Lehnhoff appears to be one of the “in” opera directors these days, and rightly so. His “radical reinterpretation” (to quote Andrew Quint in Fanfare 29:2) of Wagner’s Parsifal manages to present a totally new view of Parsifal, visually and philosophically, without seriously irritating most traditionalists. His Elektra is generally more conventional, but still contains a few surprises. The basic set includes three massive, angular walls with window-like openings surrounding an essentially empty stage. The drab blues, grays, and blacks are similar to the colors in Lehnhoff’s Parsifal. The center of the back wall contains a large, smooth, brownish, rectangular section with a doorway that magically opens to permit various people to come and go. The different design of this section makes it suspicious that something important is going to happen at some point, and so it does at the shocking and dramatic conclusion of the production. As with Parsifal, Lehnhoff does a lot with makeup, and that is extremely important because of the crucial role of close-ups in this striking Blu-ray production. The stark and simple set encourages a laser-like focus on the dramatic interactions between Elektra, Chrysothemis, Klytämnestra, and Orest.

Iréne Theorin’s Elektra dominates the show, as she should. Her voice is perhaps a little light for the role, especially for those of you who are used to Birgit Nilsson doing battle with Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic in their justly legendary Decca-London recording, but she rarely makes any squally sounds and is for the most part fine with Daniele Gatti’s comparably subdued orchestral accompaniment. Her facial expressions (with prominent pale white makeup) in response to the onstage events carry the dramatic weight of the story. In contrast (as with Kundry in Lehnhoff’s Parsifal), Waltraud Meier has richly contrasting flesh tones as she cavorts around in a bright purplish red outfit. Meier portrays Klytämnestra as being more frightened than crazy. She is vocally superior and less histrionic than many of the dramatic sopranos who play this role. Eva-Maria Westbroek (Chrysothemis) is fine vocally, but spends most of her time wandering around the stage in an annoying “Oh woe is me” fashion. René Pape (Orest) represents luxuriant casting. He is solemn and stiff (that may be Lehnhoff’s doing), but that is no big deal once you hear his magnificently rich and imposing voice, which is all that you really need in this role.

All of which brings us to Daniele Gatti and the Vienna Philharmonic. If you prefer to hear Strauss’s massive orchestra rage in Elektra (as I do), Gatti’s approach will not be ideal. With Decca-London’s unparalleled sound, Solti produces unprecedented power combined with cutting analytical clarity that highlights every detail of Strauss’s orchestration. Gatti is also interested in fine instrumental detail, but he fails to control the Vienna Philharmonic’s characteristic dark, burnished sound, which tends to round edges and lessen impact in this case. The music in many places sounds too beautiful, and those final crashing chords lack the brutal force that Solti generates on his Decca-London CD.

The Blu-ray visual production and sound are magnificent in this live Salzburg Festival production. Gatti’s interpretation may not have Solti’s power, but there is no lack of fine instrumental detail. You should also be careful at the beginning to avoid blowing out your speakers. There is no view of the opera house or the conductor entering the orchestra pit, so the performance begins explosively without warning with the massive opening brass chord. Sound formats are DTS HD 5:1 multichannel and PCM stereo. Subtitles are available in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.

To sum up, this is probably the most dramatically compelling Elektra available on DVD, including Theorin’s performance and Lehnhoff’s final onstage shocker. Unfortunately, from a strictly orchestral standpoint, Karl Böhm (Deutsche Grammophon film), Christian Thielemann (Opus Arte), James Levine (Deutsche Grammophon), Christoph von Dohnányi (TDK), Claudio Abbado (Arthaus), and of course, Solti are all preferable.



Donald Feldman
American Record Guide, July 2011

The raked stage setting of a prison and costuming in this production is superb…The [Blu-Ray] coding and orchestral surround coding works very well, although the dim-grey lighting softens things a bit. The Vienna Philharmonic sounds thrilling.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



Robert Cummings
Classical Net, June 2011

Richard Strauss loved to write for female singers. His wife was the soprano Pauline de Ahna, to whom he was greatly devoted, despite her supposed bitchy demeanor. Strauss seemed to be an advocate for women in opera, giving them power and numbers: in perhaps his three most important operas—Salome, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier—the female characters are many and dominant. Without doubt, Strauss pushed women forward at a time when they didn’t have the right to vote in most countries. But was his blessing a curse in disguise?

In Elektra we have a character who is a monster, really—especially in this production. Ashen-faced and clad in a dirty drab dress, Elektra constantly plots revenge against Klytämnestra (her mother) and Aegisth (Klytämnestra’s lover), the parties responsible for the murder of Elektra’s father Agamemnon. Elektra goes about in her obsession for revenge speaking of bloody murder (involving an axe, of course) and planning to draw first her brother, Orest, into her maniacal plot, and then later, after news of his death arrives, her sister, Chrysothemis. Things mostly work out for Elektra: it turns out Orest isn’t dead and when he returns, urged on by her, he carries out her plans, killing both their mother and Aegisth. Overcome with ecstatic triumph Elektra does a frenzied dance (although here it is more like a brief stagger) and then falls dead. While this story can be seen as a psychological study of the extremes of loyalty, one might also observe that it shows women can be as obsessive, bloody, murderous and screwed-up as men. So, of course, their liberation would be a no-brainer.

Well, my take on things is a little sarcastic here, I’ll admit, but the point is Strauss often treated his female characters a bit strangely, not least because he chose stories for his operas with some of the darkest female characters in literature. A suffragette from the early-20th century might well have mused: with friends like Strauss, who needs enemies? In the end, Strauss probably did advance women’s importance in opera, though he might well have been more focused on the sensational aspects of his efforts rather than on their social or political implications.

In this production, the opera is set in a dungeon-like place, with a concrete floor and high walls that impart a sense of being trapped, underscoring well the theme of obsession and bloody revenge. Irene Theorin is brilliant as Elektra and Eva-Maria Westbroek is equally compelling in the role of Chrysothemis. They’re quite a contrast, of course: Theorin’s Elektra is assertive and unrelenting in her obsession for revenge, while Westbroek’s Chrysothemis is rather passive and talks of marriage and having children. She’s the most normal character in the opera, but is, one might oxymoronically observe, excessively normal, or so it seems. Both these women have beautiful and quite powerful voices, and both act their roles convincingly. Waltraud Meier as Klytämnestra is also brilliant, and the two male singers are excellent as well.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production is effective, though many will sense a certain drabness to the proceedings: there is a predominance of gray and ashen colors in the sets, and of darkness and foreboding in general. Without doubt, that is what Lehnhoff intended in order to underscore the grit and tragedy of the story. Elektra’s makeup may be a bit over-the-top: her hair is straggly and dirty-looking, and her face is painted white to give her a corpse-like appearance. Watching this opera in Blu-ray format, you can easily see on the high-def screen that her makeup is as obvious as a clown’s, though Lehnhoff may well have intended that overstatement as well, as most aspects here, including modern-day dress of the characters, seem geared toward creating a surreal atmosphere. In the end, it all works well in conveying an effective luridness on stage.

Danielle Gatti leads the orchestra and chorus with a deft sense for Strauss’s mixture of post-Romantic lushness and biting dissonance. The sound is excellent and the camera work just fine. I reviewed another Elektra here, back in 2007 (TDK DVWW-OPELEK): Eva Johansson was in the lead and delivered a stunningly fanatical Elektra, though the production was a little off-the-wall and less effective than this new one. This Arthaus Elektra, which received rave reviews during its live run, must be counted among the finest recent productions of this Strauss masterpiece.




Lawrence Devoe
Blu-rayDefinition.com, April 2011

The Film

Nikolaus Lehnhoff is one of the current meisters of the nontraditional opera production, and this Elektra is no exception. However, as this opera is an archetypal psychodrama, it is not harmed by the sparse set with its dark windows and cellar hatch. The cast is powerhouse in terms of today’s singers. Irene Theorin, overcomes her grotesque Dawn of the Dead make-up and delivers an amazing sing. Her Wagnerian chops come in quite handy for this role which is supported by a huge orchestra. Two other Wagnerian veterans, Waltrud Meier (Elektra’s mother, Klytemnestra), and Eva-MariaWestbroek (Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis) are superb supporting artists. The casting luxuries continue with Robert Gambill (Elektra’s stepfather, Aegisth) and Rene Pape (Elektra’s brother, Orest) who provide small but important contributions to this performance. Elektra may not be Richard Strauss’s most popular opera, cast in a musical mold similar to the earlier Salome, but it has greater dramatic power when this well performed. This 2010 Salzburg Festival Production bears the usual Lehnhoff stamp including minimalist sets and modern costumes. Fortunately, Strauss’s operatic drama can survive such liberties with its original ancient Greek setting and still reach today’s audiences. Maestro Daniele Gatti paces this declamatory score with a deft baton and keeps the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on a steady course.

For those unfamiliar with the original Electra story, this opera begins some years after Electra’s father, Agamemnon, was murdered, by her mother and her lover, Aegisthus. Electra’s brother, Orestes, has been hidden safely for a long time. Electra mourns her father’s death and seeks revenge which finally materializes when Orestes returns to perform the deed. Electra performs her vengeance monologue, and falls lifeless at the opera’s conclusion.

Video Quality

There is an abundance of close camera work which highlights Elektra’s stark makeup. In an effort to make Theorin look bizarre, the costumiers also succeed brillantly. From the beginning, there is no doubt that Elektra is disturbed, very disturbed, and her raving is her normal behavior. With the exception of Klytemnestra’s garish outfit and Aegisth’s foppish suit, the rest of the cast is clad in rather drab outfits. The videography mercifully minimizes the bareness of the stage, only relieved by a brightly lit death chamber at the end. The highlight of this opera is the recognition scene between Elektra and Orest, captured with outstanding camera work. My only disappointment was the omission of Elektra’s choreography for her final vengeance monologue. Overall, the predominant close ups of the singers brings this performance right at the viewer, enhancing its impact.

Audio Quality

The soundtrack is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The orchestra and singers are perfectly reproduced with the essence of a live recording. Because the impact of Elektra is dependent on hearing the singers’ monologues over the large orchestral forces employed, compliments must be given to maestro Gatti, and the sound engineers who keep the balance nearly perfect. From the viewer’s perspective, the soundtrack offers choice mid-orchestra row seats to this performance. This is particularly gratifying considering that the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra remains one of the premiere operatic orchestras in the world. Simply stated, you will not hear Elektra better sung or played in today’s operatic world.

Supplemental Materials

With the exception of 5 trailers for other Arthaus operas, this BD is devoid of extras. Normally, this would be a detriment, but given the otherwise superb production values, I hardly missed them.

The Definitive Word

Overall

There are two other BD versions of this opera with some casting strengths and production alternatives. This Elektra features strong videography and sound recording, critical to the effect of an opera in which there is more action off than on the stage. It is also the most strongly cast in all of the key roles. While it could be argued that Christian Thielemann (in the Opus Arte BD) is to the Strauss manner born, Maestro Gatti also possesses a great Straussian touch and maintains the orchestral pulse in good order. The typically off-center Lehnhoff staging and costumes do not keep this performance from achieving its desired impact. My gauge for the success of an Elektra performance is the degree to which it makes me sweat. Bring on the anti-perspirant, this Elektra is the real deal.






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12:51:29 AM, 29 November 2014
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