United States Richard Strauss, Elektra: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons (conductor), Tanglewood Festival Chorus, James Bagwell (chorus conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York, 21.10.2015 (SSM)
First Maid: Nadezhda Serdyuk
Second Maid: Claudia Huckle
Third Maid: Mary Phillips
Fourth Maid: Sandra López
Fifth Maid: Rebecca Nash
Overseer: Nadine Secunde
Elektra: Christine Goerke
Chrysothemis, her sister: Gun-Brit Barkmin
Klytämnestra, their mother: Jane Henschel
Klytämnestra’s Confidante: Elizabeth Byrne
Klytämnestra’s Trainbearer: Meredith Hansen
Young Servant: Mark Schowalter
Old Servant: Kevin Langan
Orest, brother of Elektra and Chrysothemis: James Rutherford
Orest’s Guardian: Kevin Langan
Aegisth, Klytämnestra’s lover: Gerhard Siegel
Serving-men and -women: Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Six Servants: TFC members Joy Emerson Brewer, Jeni Lynn Cameron, Abbe Dalton Clark,
Rachel K. Hallenbeck, Gale Tolman Livingston, and Christiana Donal Meeks
We all know that this opera begins in medias res, that Elektra’s father has already been killed. Angry at everything, she knows that she has lost or will lose her family, that she will soon be rootless. She is beyond good and evil and meanders upon the stage knowing that her time will soon be up. Elektra’s tragic pains are existential in nature: she is alienated and has alienated most of her family and friends. Obsessed with her father’s death, Elektra is determined to take revenge, even if it means murdering her mother. This is one complicated character, and it takes someone special to take on the extraordinary part. Strauss himself is quoted as saying:“The title role must above all be given to the highest and most dramatic soprano that can be found.”
There have been great Elektras who have built their characters over many years, but few like Christine Goerke, who was only “discovered” a few years ago in the role of the Dyer’s Wife in Strauss’s Die Frau Ohne Schatten. Having previously played the role of Chrysothemis, Goerke has clearly now absorbed Elektra and made it her own. The fact that this was a concert version cut both ways. On the plus side was Carnegie Hall, where the famous acoustics gave to one’s ears the equivalent of what 3D glasses give the eyes. On the minus side, with the orchestra and chorus sharing the stage, often Goerke didn’t quite know what to do with herself, having only the small passages between orchestral sections in which to pace and to negotiate her belle-of-the-ball dress. Her voice was so pure that it betrayed her character: how could a woman with this angelic voice hurt anyone? And how could anyone perform a role which demands ninety minutes of nonstop and challenging singing.
So large a force was Goerke that when some of the singers took their bows, I barely remembered what they had sung. It was as if they had hardly appeared at all. Gun-Brit Barkmin never really convinced me that she was a homebody who believes things will go back to normal, her torments will end. Jane Henschel was more convincing as Elektra’s heartless mother; her ability to produce creepy cackling sounds as she laughed her way off stage does make one believe she was capable of killing her husband. The men had much less to sing, and although you know who they are, they don’t have enough time to clearly differentiate their roles.
With regard to the orchestra, there’s not much more that I can say but “Wow.” All the orchestral members excelled. The brass, particularly the four Wagner tubas, made the entire theater shake. Much of the passion and precise playing that came from the orchestra was due to Andris Nelsons’s superb shaping of the orchestral groups. It’s good to know that the BSO will be in the hands of a dynamo who, so far, seems to understand exactly what this orchestra needs to keep its deserved reputation intact.
I don’t remember when I’ve heard such long ovations.