Mother and daughter issues

Strauss – Elektra

Elektra – Christine Goerke

Klytämnestra – Ewa Podleś

Chrysothemis – Danielle Halbwachs

Orest – Martin Winkler

Ägisth – Peter Svensson

Der Pfleger des Orest – Dariusz Machej

Ein junger Diener – Karol Kozłowski

Ein alter Diener – Mieczyslław Milun

Die Aufseherin – Monika Mych-Nowicka

Die Vertraute – Magdalena Idzik

Die Schleppträgerin – Agnieszka Tomaszewksa

Erste Magd – Agnieszka Rehlis

Zweite Magd – Anna Bernacka

Dritte Magd – Anna Lubańska

Vierte Magd – Monika Świostek

Fünfte Magd – Katarzyna Trylnik

Chór i Orkiestra Teatru Wielkiego – Opery Narodowej / Stefan Soltesz.

Stage Director – Willy Decker

Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, Warsaw.  Sunday, May 4th, 2014  

It wasn’t too long ago that many claimed that there were no sopranos left able to take on the marathon that is the title role of Elektra, yet over the last few years, a number of notable sopranos have taken on the role to great success.  I think of Iréne Theorin, Evelyn Herlitzius and tonight’s Elektra, Christine Goerke.  Over the next season two more outstanding sopranos, Lise Lindstrom and Nina Stemme, are planning to take on the role.  I very much hope that I’ll have the opportunity to see Miss Lindstrom and Miss Stemme sing the role very soon.  The added attraction for me of this performance was getting to see the great Ewa Podleś as Klytämnestra, a role that I saw her sing in Toronto in 2006 and at that time, thought it the finest assumption of the role I had ever seen or heard.  Tonight neither she nor Goerke disappointed in a performance that was certainly more than the sum of its parts.

This was my first visit to the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw and it is a fine theatre.  Seat prices are extremely reasonable – I paid the equivalent of EUR25 for a top price seat.  The acoustic is generous, the seats comfortable and the overall experience very satisfying.  I very much hope to visit again.  The orchestra was excellent, they played this difficult score with the utmost security and the smaller roles were very well cast with fine singers who had impeccable German diction.  It was a privilege to attend a performance in this house.

Stefan Soltesz seemed to make a lot of noise on the podium so much so that I thought he sounded like he was getting involved in the murder.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it had much of an effect on the quality of his interpretation.  It was incredibly four-square lacking in swing and failed to bring out either the expressionistic aspects of the score or the dance elements that are inherent to it.  It lacked both violence and tenderness and it felt like that excellent band could have achieved a lot more if they had had a conductor more able to bring out the multifaceted sophistication of this marvellous score.  This piece has everything, from violence to tenderness to the joyfulness and yet it just felt that Soltesz was trying to get to the end as efficiently as possible.  A missed opportunity.

The singing had so much more to recommend it.  Christine Goerke’s Elektra is a great achievement above all because she never sacrifices beauty of tone.  This is especially welcome compared to the screamers we have heard in this role over the years.  The voice is plush and velvety with a bottom that is exceptionally rich and large.  If the tone narrows at the very top and a very small number of the notes were not quite hit straight on, this is a small price to pay for a performance that brings so much beauty to a role that so many sopranos just struggle to get through.  Goerke also manages to completely capture all the facets of this character through vocal and dramatic means – the tenderness of the recognition scene, the sheer strength of her wish for revenge, they are all there.  This was an exceptional performance of this near-impossible role that made it sound easy.

Goerke was a perfect match for La Podleś as Klytämnestra and they genuinely sounded vocally as if they could have been mother and daughter.  Podleś’ Klytämnestra is without a doubt the finest assumption of this role that I have heard in the twenty years that I have known this opera.  She sang like a woman possessed yet never let us forget for one moment that she is a queen.  Her performance was complete with regal opulence, a richness of tone that befitted the head of the household.  Yet she also managed to capture the character’s pain and lack of resolution with a use of text that was revelatory.  She was magnetic to watch, totally dominating the stage when she was singing.

Danielle Halbwachs is a singer new to me and she is a very interesting talent.  The South African-trained, Mauritian soprano has a dusky, powerful voice with a gleaming top.  There were times when she sounded a little breathless but otherwise she hit her notes with ease.

The men were efficient enough – Martin Winkler’s Orest was sung with a grainy tone but lots of power and Peter Svensson’s Ägisth was perfectly secure.  The smaller roles as I mentioned above were very well taken, I was struck particularly by Karol Kozłowski’s Young Servant sung with a fresh and invigorating tenor.  The maids were also superb – crystal clear diction and fresh voices made a very positive impression at the opening.

Willy Decker’s 1996 Nederlandse Opera production is a known quantity.  I saw it in Amsterdam around a decade ago with Nadine Secunde in the title role.  It is efficient enough and does the job but perhaps not particularly memorable as there were a few things that I had completely forgotten about.  Both Klytämnestra and Ägisth are murdered on stage and Elektra makes Orest stab her to death at the end which does make perfect sense for Chrysothemis to call ‘Orest’ at the end.  Otherwise the staging does the job decently enough and provides a compelling framework for some exceptional performances.

While this was perhaps not a vintage Elektra due to the conducting it was a superb one headed by some exceptional performances.  It was an outstanding evening and definitely worth the journey.


Photo: (C) Krzysztof Bieliński, Teatr Wielki Opera Narodowa


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