Strauss – Elektra
Elektra – Evelyn Herlitzius
Klytämnestra – Waltraud Meier
Chrysothemis – Adrianne Pieczonka
Orest – René Pape
Ägisth – Tom Randle
Der Pfleger des Orest – Franz Mazura
Ein junger Diener – Michael Pflumm
Ein alter Diener – Donald McIntyre
Die Aufseherin/Die Vertraute – Renate Behle
Erste Magd – Bonita Hyman
Zweite Magd/Die Schleppträgerin – Andrea Hill
Dritte Magd – Silvia Hablowetz
Vierte Magd – Marie-Ève Munger
Fünfte Magd – Roberta Alexander
Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala / Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Stage director – Patrice Chéreau
Teatro alla Scala, Milan. Saturday, May 24th, 2014
Last July’s Elektra at the Aix-en-Provence festival was one of those evenings where I felt privileged to watch a great artist sing a role that she was perhaps born to sing. Evelyn Herlitzius’ Elektra is a great interpretation and I have no doubt that she is amongst the very finest ever interpreters of the role. The late Patrice Chéreau’s staging left me a little less enthused than many others who saw it; tonight, revived by Vincent Huguet, it had obviously been re-worked and convinced much more. The miming with the maids cleaning at the start before the music begins still grates, surely there is a need for this piece, with its arresting opening, to begin as soon as the curtain goes up. This palace is a place where everyone seems to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and where Chréreau excels is in the portrayal of people who seem to have issues that they have no idea how to resolve. Klytämnestra constantly scratching repeatedly is a manifestation of this. This time the scene with Ägisth is much more convincing – last time I couldn’t quite understand how anyone would not notice the dead queen lying there – and it feels that the staging has been tightened up and it benefits from this enormously.
The main issue that I still find unresolved is Waltraud Meier’s Klytämnestra. In this staging, Klytämnestra is seemingly much more reasonable and understated than the personality we normally see. Yet, I still cannot see how someone so reasonable could strike the fear into the maids that she obviously does. Perhaps Chéreau is saying that these people accept power unquestioningly and that even the powerful are human. Yet how she achieved this power and creates fear is left unsaid. I find it incredibly problematic and not quite convincing. Vocally I found Meier disappointing. Anything below a middle C was barely audible although the top seemed to come out quite easily. Of course her diction was crystal clear and it was always sung rather than spoken but I did spend some time regretting that we didn’t have Ewa Podleś who I think would have been a much better match for Herlitzius.
Adrianne Pieczonka repeated her fine Chysothemis with gleaming high notes and beautiful phrases. It felt that she would have liked her solo passages to go a little swifter though. There was real chemistry there with Herlitzius’ Elektra. René Pape was a superb Orest bringing great sensitivity to the text and ease throughout the range. Tom Randle’s Ägisth was decently sung. The maids I’m afraid were not great – there were some ungainly sounds produced although Marie-Ève Munger’s Fourth Maid was deeply impressive – do I spot a future Chrysothemis in her?
Then there was Herlitzius. She is a singer who has to be experienced live. The size of the voice is staggering but it is used with such intelligence that when she lets rip it’s breathtaking to listen to. I imagine some will not be able to look beyond the fact that the vibrato can be a little uneven and some notes aren’t always hit head on but she is, without doubt, one of the greatest ever performers of this almost impossible role. The tenderness that she found in the Recognition Scene, phrased with warmth and affection, was deeply moving. The way that she reflected on her beauty was wonderfully done. The big moments like ‘was bluten muss?’ were sung with a power that, until her, I had never experienced in a theatre. Simply exceptional.
Salonen’s interpretation of the work also seemed much more bedded-in that it did last July and it worked extremely well. He brought out the expressionistic aspects of the score, the nightmarish tone colours, really well. He also brought out the violence fantastically – Ägisth’s murder was brutal and sharp. The lyricism of the recognition scene as he brought out the seemingly endless melodies in the strings was perfectly judged. In a very small number of cases tempi were slightly too expansive but otherwise, it was very well judged. The Scala orchestra offered playing of superb virtuosity and richness worthy of this exalted venue.
This was my first visit to La Scala and I hope that it will not be the last. It’s a beautiful theatre although acoustically I didn’t find it the best. I sat in the Prima Galleria. The seats are very tight and if you are not intimate with your neighbour at the start of the evening, then you certainly will be by the end. The audience was quite poorly behaved – a lot of chatting, some people making movies of the show but I found the staff to be very friendly and welcoming. The online ticket process is somewhat unreliable. The site crashed as I was buying the ticket and I wasn’t sure if the purchase was complete but it did work in the end.
This was a much more satisfying evening than the performance I saw at Aix. There I was in awe of Herlitzius’ greatness but also felt the staging had too many non sequiturs. Tonight many of the issues I mentioned last time had been sorted out and this was a deeply engaging rendition of this great work. All that remains is to book to see Herlitzius sing Elektra again very soon.