A Brilliant Evelyn Herlitzius Leads an Outstanding Cast in Elektra on the Liceu Stage

SpainSpain Strauss, Elektra: Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Josep Pons (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 15.12.2016. (JMI)

Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra) © A. Bofill

Elektra – Evelyn Herlitzius
Chrysothemis – Adrianne Pieczonka
Klytämnestra – Waltraud Meier
Orest – Alan Held
Aegisth – Thomas Randle
Orest Preceptor – Franz Mazura
Young Servant – Florian Hoffmann
Old Servant – Mariano Viñuales
Vertraute/Aufseherin – Renate Behle
First Maid – Bonita Hyman
Second Maid/Schleppträgerin – Andrea Hill
Third Maid – Silvia Hablowetz
Fourth Maid – Marie-Eve Munger
Fifth Maid – Roberta Alexander

Director – Patrice Chéreau (original), Vincent Huguet (revival)
Sets – Richard Peduzzi
Costumes – Caroline de Vivaise
Lighting – Dominique Bruguière

The Liceu season continues with this superb Elektra, which is notable for its strong musical performance and excellent cast, particularly the protagonist.

Patrice Chéreau’s well-known production premiered in Aix-en-Provence in July 2013. The sets are quite traditional and similar to those in other stagings: a courtyard at the front where the action takes place, and a building in the background that represents the palace. Judging from the costumes, the action has been brought up to modern times. While the production is neither elaborate nor especially original, it does serve the plot very nicely.

The characters are modern and well defined. Elektra does not die of joy at the end of the opera, but she seems to accept the advice of Chrysothemis to follow her to a new life. The same thing is true of Orestes. Klytämnestra is younger than what we are accustomed to seeing in this opera, and she is particularly credible. Chéreau’s original staging (here revived by Vincent Huguet) is solid and the direction is too, in particular with regard to the group of maids.

I had some reservations about the musical aspect beforehand since neither the conductor nor the orchestra seemed to be a sufficient guarantee for an opera like Elektra. But the result, if not spectacular, was so much stronger than I expected. The conducting by Josep Pons may not equal that of Esa-Pekka Salonen in the same production, but Pons’s reading was one of the most convincing I can remember from him. He also drew a commendable performance from the Liceu Orchestra, much above its general level in recent years.

Elektra was played by Evelyn Herlitzius who triumphed in the part, as she has done on many other occasions. Vocally, she does not have the opulence of someone like Nina Stemme or various past performers, but it is almost impossible to think of an Elektra as intense as hers. She had the greatest triumph of the night. It is the fifth time I’ve heard her sing the part of Elektra, and she continues to be an exceptional interpreter. One forgets other vocal aspects and ends up surrendering to the emotion that this singer is able to transmit. After all, if opera is not emotion through singing, what is it?

Adrianne Pieczonka has become the Chrysothemis of reference since her participation in the Aix-en-Provence premiere. It is difficult to think of anyone who is better in this role. Since the last time I heard her in the part she has become tighter at the top of the range, but she is still a terrific Chrysothemis.

Waltraud Meier does not have the voice that Klytämnestra requires, but she is an artist who ends up convincing us in everything she does. She was, however, not at her best here: her voice is now weaker in the lower notes and somewhat short on volume.

Bass-baritone Alan Held as Orest left a great impression: sonorous, moving and convincing. The cast of principal characters was completed by tenor Thomas Randle as Aegisth, and he handled the role very well.

In the secondary characters the presence of veteran Franz Mazura as Preceptor of Orestes must be noted. At 92 he offers both physical agility and a resonant voice.

José M. Irurzun

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