Elektra in Dresden: Not a Vintage Evening

GermanyGermany Strauss, Elektra: Soloists, Chorus of the Saxon State Opera (chorus master: Wolfram Tetzner), Staatskapelle Dresden, Peter Schneider (conductor). Semperoper, Dresden, 15.12.2014 (MB)

Elektra – Elena Pankratova
Chrysothemis – Manuela Uhl
Klytämnestra – Jane Henschel
Orest – Markus Marquardt
Aegisth – Jürgen Müller
First Maid – Constance Heller
Second Maid – Stephanie Atanasov
Third Maid – Christa Mayer
Fourth Maid – Roxana Incontrera
Fifth Maid – Nadja Mchantaf
Overseer – Sabine Brohm
Young Servant – Simeon Esper
Old Servant – Tilmann Rönnebeck
Orest’s tutor – Matthias Henneberg
Confidante – Andrea Ihle
Trainbearer – Christiane Hossfeld

Barbara Frey (director)
Muriel Gerstner (set designs)
Bettina Walter (costumes)
Gérard Cleven (lighting)
Micaela von Marcard (dramaturgy)

Almost anything would have been an anti-climax following the Semperoper’s Rosenkavalier the previous day, but, odious comparisons aside, there was still something disappointing to the experience of so routine an Elektra as my final instalment of Strauss Year. Barbara Frey’s production was new earlier this year, but frankly it already looked far more old and tired than Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s staging of the next Strauss-Hofmannsthal collaboration, which had first been seen in 2000. There really did not seem to be very much to it at all. Few set designs for Elektra have in my experience looked radically different. Here there is less granite, whether literal or figurative, than often, but the action still unfolds in what appears to be a royal palace and household that have seen better days. An inscription referring to royal justice hangs pregnantly, ironically, over proceedings, but alas little of what we see lives up to our anticipations. Perhaps there was simply not enough rehearsal for a repertory performance; there was definitely a sense of the performers being left to fend for themselves. Odd touches, such as child actors appearing on stage during the Recognition Scene, so as to remind us that Elektra and Orest last saw each other when children, really add nothing. One would have to have been taking very little notice at all not to have grasped that dramatic point already.

 Lothar Koenigs was apparently ill, and had been replaced by the veteran replacement-conductor, Peter Schneider. Again, there was a strong sense of lack of rehearsal. Schneider’s vague, listless direction of the score suggested a run-through rather than a performance in any emphatic sense. The Staatskapelle Dresden could doubtless not put on a bad performance of Strauss if it tried, but by its standards, it was hardly on form. There was a distinct lack of focus, too much of Pierre Monteux’s ‘indifference of mezzo forte’; again, the contrast with the Rosenkavalier was glaring. When the full force of the orchestra seemed finally to be unleashed, at the very close, it seemed too little, too late.

 Elena Pankratova was the best reason to have heard this performance. She probably needed more help in terms of stage direction, but her vocal performance was generally strong, speaking of a strong musico-dramatic commitment throughout. This was indeed a musical performance, not a house of horrors exhibition of screaming. Manuela Uhl’s Chrysothemis offered gleaming sound, though her intonation wavered a little too often. Jane Henschel is a fantastic singing-actress, but here she erred too much for me on the side of caricature. Again, perhaps stronger direction, both stage and musical, would surely have helped create something more.  Markus Marquardt proved a sadly wooden Orest, but Jürgen Müller offered an uncommonly well-sung Aegisth. Not a vintage evening, then, not even close; but I should forgive almost anything for that Rosenkavalier.


Mark Berry

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