Elektra and the Multitudes

Strauss – Elektra

Elektra – Iréne Theorin

Klytämnestra – Waltraud Meier

Chrysothemis – Richarda Merbeth

Orest – Yevgeny Nikitin

Ägisth – Kim Begley

Der Pfleger des Orest – Johannes Schmidt

Ein junger Diener – Jörg Schneider

Ein alter Diener – Kristof Klorek

Die Aufseherin – Miranda Keys

Die Vertraute – Ghislaine Roux

Die Schleppträgerin – Corinne Talibart

Erste Magd – Anja Jung

Zweite Magd – Susanna Kreusch

Dritte Magd – Heike Wessels

Vierte Magd – Barbara Morihien

Fünfte Magd – Eva Oltivanyi

Choeur de l’Opéra national de Paris, Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris / Philippe Jordan.

Stage director – Robert Carsen.

Opéra de Paris-Bastille, Paris.  Sunday, December 1st, 2013.

This very good Elektra was followed by two archetypal Paris experiences – a wonderful meal of steak au poivre with an excellent Côtes du Rhône and getting my iPhone stolen.  Still, it was an enjoyable performance (as enjoyable as any Elektra can be) and if it didn’t quite hit the heights of the other Elektras I saw this year, in Aix-en-Provence and London, it was perhaps more due to the difficult acoustic of the Bastille theatre and the conducting than any individual performance.

To have seen three quite outstanding Elektras with the space of five months is not something that happens often but it invariably means that comparisons are inevitable.  This was my first time to hear Iréne Theorin and she impressed by her bright tone and fearless vocalism.  Interestingly, the voice seemed much smaller compared to the voices I had heard the previous evening and despite paying the same price for the seat, it felt that the seat that I had did not offer the same quality of sound as the seat last night.  Consequently, much that Theorin did was lost when she was singing upstage but when she sang at the front of the stage, the sound was bright, clear and forward.  I would say that the voice doesn’t quite have the weight of a Herlitzius (who does?), but it does share with Goerke a similar quick vibrato but with a much brighter sound.  I don’t feel that I can judge Theorin’s performance fully given the problematic acoustic but I would certainly like to hear her again.

Ricarda Merbeth offered a Chrysothemis who at times carried better through the theatre than Theorin.  There was a richness of tone there that was very fine but also a slight tendency to sing under the note.  This is the second time that I have heard Waltraud Meier’s Klytämnestra and she, more than any of the other principals, suffered from the Bastille acoustic.  There were a number of times that she was inaudible from my seat, tuning was often awry and she resorted frequently to Sprechgesang.  Yevgeny Nikitin’s Orest was very impressive, firm and rich of voice, and Kim Begley’s Ägisth was strikingly sung.  The maids were efficient enough but I was particularly struck by Miranda Keys’ overseer who was in much fresher voice than the ladies who are usually assigned the role.

Philippe Jordan’s conducting felt somewhat episodic I think partly due to the particularities of the Bastille acoustic.  Loud sections seemed to come from nowhere without a build-up and tension sagged dangerously at times.  This was particularly apparent in the Elektra- Klytämnestra confrontation where Jordan achieved incredibly quiet playing from his band but to the detriment of inner pulse.  Perhaps in a smaller house this would have worked but in the barn that is the Bastille, it just sagged horribly.  He gave a highly romantic reading, with great sweep, it felt he was creating a sound world that was truly cantabile but in this aggressive score, I felt that he sacrificed too much.  The Opéra orchestra played sensationally offering playing of virtuosity and weight.  After the superbly played Puritani last night, this really is an exceptional band.

I have seen so many Robert Carsen productions now that the whole thing felt a little déjà vu.  It seemed to be set in a bunker with all the female characters except for Klytämnestra identically dressed in black shifts.  At the end Elektra appears to fall asleep which raises the question of whether it was all meant to be Elektra’s dream. A large number of body doubles imitate Elektra’s physical movements which results in some arresting stage pictures but also reminded me somewhat of his Vlaamse Opera Turandot which seemed to revolve significantly around the communal moving of pieces of furniture.  It was certainly arresting to look at but having all the female characters wearing the same clothes and my personal distance from the stage, resulted in a sense of relationships between these female characters not being particularly established and confused.  Ultimately perhaps, that may well have been Carsen’s intention that the only relationship female that matters is the Elektra- Klytämnestra one yet if that is indeed the case, it does not quite do justice to the entire work.

This was an afternoon that promised so much yet only partially delivered mainly due to the problems inherent in performing in that particular acoustic.  It was outstandingly played by an orchestra at the top of its game and it was securely sung for the most part.  Yet it didn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts simply because the acoustic as experienced from my particular seat did not offer the best aural experience.  This despite paying the same price for a seat from where the previous evening the sound was perfectly acceptable.  When I booked the Opéra did not offer the opportunity to select one’s own seats.  It does now and it is certainly worth checking carefully when booking.  It would be a shame to miss out hearing that fabulous orchestra but the quality of sound really does depend on where one is seated in the auditorium.

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