Nina Stemme and Ricarda Merbeth Excel in Munich as Agamemnon’s Daughters

GermanyGermany Strauss, Elektra: Bayerische Staatsorchester / Simone Young (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 13.2.2017. (JMI)

Elektra © W Hösl

Elektra – Nina Stemme
Chrysothemis – Ricarda Merbeth
Klytämnestra – Doris Soffel
Orest – Johan Reuter
Aegisth – Ulrich Ress
Orest Preceptor – Kristof Klorek
Young Servant – Matthew Grill
Old Servant – Peter Lobert
Confidante – Alyna Abramowa
Trainbearer – Paula Iancic
Head of Maids- Helena Zubanovich
First Maid – Okka von der Damerau
Second Maid – Rachel Wilson
Third Maid – Heike Grötzinger
Fourth Maid – Daniela Köhler
Fifth Maid – Golda Schultz

Direction – Herbert Wernicke (Original), Bettina Göschl (Revival)
Sets, Costumes and Lighting – Herbert Wernicke

Overall, this was a satisfying and successful staging of Elektra. Although I find the Wernicke production unconvincing, the musical direction here was sound, and the cast featured two superb artists in the roles of Elektra and Chrysothemis.

In my many years of attending Elektra performances, I’ve come to the conclusion that this opera, like few others, needs a great musical director. Every time an exceptional conductor is in the pit, the result is brilliant, but when the conductor is not outstanding, things are less satisfactory. In Munich we had Australian Simone Young, and her performance was good if not extraordinary. She certainly did a better job than Asher Fisch in this same theatre two years ago. Her reading had its ups and downs, but some passages were brilliantly handled. Perhaps the best was the second scene between Elektra and Chrysothemis, which she conducted with great intensity and emotion. At her command was the always impeccable Bayerische Staatsorchester.

Elektra was none other than Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, one of the two great interpreters of the character today; the other is Evelyn Herlitzius. Ms. Stemme’s voice has more quality than Ms. Herlitzius’s, although she is not as dramatically intense. Here Ms. Stemme was marvellous, with a voice that was powerful and compelling throughout the opera.

Ricarda Merbeth was a remarkable Chrysothemis. She may not be as charismatic as some others, but she is impeccable in everything she sings. The excellent Adrienne Pieczonka sang the role here two years ago, but I didn’t miss her: Ms. Merbeth gave a faultless performance.

Veteran mezzo soprano Doris Soffel was a correct Klytämnestra but rather modest in vocal terms. Her voice doesn’t have the necessary amplitude, and she isn’t the contralto that the character requires.

Baritone Johan Reuter was a fine Orest. He has an attractive voice and sang with gusto, especially in the scene of the recognition. Ulrich Ress was a well-suited Aegisth

The secondary characters are always first-rate in Munich, and this was no exception. I should point out the presence among the Maids of Okka Von Der Damerau (First Maid), Heike Grötzinger (Third Maid) and especially Golda Schultz (Fifth Maid).

Munich once again presented the house production which premiered in 1997, and which I’ve written about in previous years: review

José M. Irurzun

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