A new production of Elektra in Vienna with Nina Stemme making a role debut of the title heroine naturally raised expectations. The soprano more than met the challenge, and seemingly carrying the torch passed onto her from her Swedish predecessor, Birgit Nilsson, made an extraordinary vocal and artistic display.
The costumes were in keeping with the monochrome colors. Elektra was dressed in a black man’s suit, at once signifying her alienation from her female sexuality and the conventional world. Her sister, Chrysothemis, who yearns for a normal woman’s life of marriage and children, wore a girlish white lace dress which could double as a bridal dress. Elektra’s mother Klytämnestra was elegantly dressed in a long jeweled light colored sheath and a rich golden robe. The servants wore functional, almost military looking garb, as did the men.
Nina Stemme chose to depict Elektra not so as a clearly demented and crazed animal, but as a sullen, calculating, and rebellious outsider biding her time for revenge. She began her first utterance “Allein! Weh, ganz allein” quietly and contemplatively, yet her voice soon gathered volume and strength to become a force of nature. She paced herself carefully but her energy and concentration never flagged. Her voice was huge, cutting through the big orchestra easily throughout the register. She was able to modulate her voice in volume and color to express the character’s shifting mood and thoughts. Her rich middle voice was particularly splendid; high notes were approached lightly rather than attacked forcefully but then bloomed fully as she let out the climaxes. It was simply a thrilling, riveting, and well articulated performance. Her acting was exemplary, and her encounters with her sister, her mother, her brother, and her stepfather all showed off her ability to use her voice and body to interact with and react to her surroundings.
Anna Larsson as Klytämnestra was an unusually elegant and statuesque character and sang with beauty and lyricism rather than with declamatory wailing and shouting sometimes heard. This Klytämnestra was a physically frail and sorrowful figure who wanted nothing but forgiveness from Elektra, and her despair after Elektra’s manipulation of her - first faked understanding, then rejection - seemed to utterly devastate her both vocally and physically.
The Orchestra of Vienna State Opera played with their usual magnificence and mastery of the score, especially in the strings and brass sections, althoughthere were very minor issues in the winds at the beginning. As conductor Mikko Franck stated in his published interview, subsequent performances should provide the “opportunity of improving things.”
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