Sunday, May 13, 2012

Elektra in Philadelphia

Surely one of our more pressing problems is how to get enough Elektra. It is a work of such knotty awesomeness that it strains the ability of our sad little earholes to take it all in, and dropping the orchestra in a pit doesn't help matters either. So concert-version Elektras, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra presented Thursday, are to be encouraged.

From the first Agamemnon theme, erupting on a vast, almost shocking scale (would that the Kimmel Center had one of those candid cams they have on rollercoasters to capture the looks of recognition and a bit of fear that spread through the audience) it was clear we were in for a symphonic throttling of the highest order. Charles Dutoit guided the orchestra through a performance intent on sacrificing nothing of the score's brilliance and majesty to the usual compromises of the theater, rendering its dense thickets of detail with astonishing clarity. Overlooked passages like the black, febrile texture that rumbles through the strings after Elektra initially learns about Orest's death emerged as deeply engrossing, while the big showpiece sections, especially the recognition scene and the finale, simply overwhelmed with waves of rich, yet ever transparent sound. If there was a certain savagery absent that one might look for in the theater, well that wasn't really the point of the evening.

The band was supported by an exemplary cast, led by Dane Eva Johansson, seen behoodied in a Zurich Elektra below (if only she would get rid of that hoodie maybe they wouldn't make her sleep in the yard). Johansson suggested a particularly coarse Elektra devoid of any glamour or self-pity, one I would be interested in seeing fully realized on stage. Her chief claim to the part is surely her ability to conjure the requisite blazing high notes with an unimpeachable purity and little (apparent) effort. While that made for many a thrilling climax, beneath the stratosphere she can revert to a somewhat dull, "thin" sound. I'm not asking for a conventionally gorgeous Elektra mind you, but the lack of throbbing heft places some limitations on some crucial sections, including the "I wuz pretty" monologue and the dirty bit with her sister. Yet Johansson is a fine enough actress that these sections were riveting nonetheless.

Melanie Deiner offered a harried, sweetly feminine Chrysothemis, a fine contrast to Johansson's bulldog of an Elektra, with sumptuous blooming tone during the big duets. The final prong of the triumvirate, Jane Henschel, was a special treat as Klytamnestra, mixing a lush sound with a bone chilling lower register, and a go-for-broke manic laugh at the end of her scene.

Two technical fouls bear mentioning. The subtitles arranged for this performance suffered from terrible timing issues throughout the night, at one point becoming so bad that Elektra and her mom were engaged in a a very dark subtitle version of the "Singin' in the Rain" gag. Also, the most-thankless-choral-part in opera part, the "Orest!" chorus, was piped in via very noisy and crude amplification. Clearly, space was at a premium in the Kimmel Center, but this was a major intrusion on the glorious sound produced by the orchestra.


Will said...

A friend said that Elektra is the only opera he knows of where the soprano can get a standing ovation just by being able to stand upright at the end.

I hadn't heard of Melanie Diener in years. I'm glad to know she's still in good voice.

Alex said...

Yeah...Diener was familiar to me through some recording I can't remember but I've never seen her mentioned anywhere live until the NSO's Fidelio concert in March and now this. Quite impressive.

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