A Classic Production of Elektra Returns to the Hamburg Stage

GermanyGermany  Strauss: Elektra, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester, Kent Nagano (conductor), Staatsoper, Hamburg, 10.10.2015 (JMI)

Elektra: Linda Watson
Chrysothemis: Ricarda Merbeth
Klytämnestra: Mihoko Fujimura
Orest: Wilhelm Schwinghammer
Aegisth: Robert Künzli


Production: Staatsoper Hamburg
Direction: August Everding
Sets and Costumes: Andreas Majewski

This production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra is one of the oldest to be seen in today’s opera houses. In fact, many in the audience at this performance were probably not born when the August Everding staging premiered in 1973. The production bears little resemblance to what is now seen in many theatres: it’s very classical and traditional, and the atmosphere is quite dark. The costumes relate to ancient Greek times, except in the case of Klytämnestra. The lighting is a little poor, considering the darkness of the stage. The stage direction simply narrates the story without any personal touches.

Apart from the vocal demands that this opera makes, the musical direction is of paramount importance. The same might be said of so many other operas, but everyone agrees that the conductor is a major factor in Elektra. Following his debut in Les Troyens, Kent Nagano, the new musical director of the Staatsoper, returned to the Hamburg orchestra pit. In both scenes between Chrysothemis and Elektra and also in the important scene of Klytämnestra and Elektra, the conducting went a little flat. Mr. Nagano did not really meet my expectations until the recognition of Orestes by Elektra: here was the emotion that I missed during the previous hour and, after that, everything went much better. The orchestra gave a strong performance throughout.

Elektra was sung by American soprano Linda Watson, a frequent interpreter of the purely dramatic repertoire. Her Elektra works reasonably well, but her top notes are tight, and she lacks power and intensity when compared with outstanding Elektras of recent years, particularly Nina Stemme and Evelyn Herlitzius.

German soprano Ricarda Merbeth gave life to Chrysothemis and once again proved that she is a real guarantee in the characters she plays. She was by far the best of the cast  ̶  an excellent Chrysothemis.

Japanese mezzo soprano Mihojko Fujimura was a rather modest Klytämnestra. First of all, she is not the contralto required for this part. It’s true that we seldom hear a true contralto in the role, but her voice is not big and her singing is a little monotonous.

Bass-baritone Wilhelm Schwinghammer was a correct Orest, better here than in characters that require a true bass, which he is not. Tenor Robert Künzli, replacing Peter Galliard as Aegisth, did very well in his brief role. The secondary characters were good.

José M. Irurzun

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