Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s Intelligent Elektra is Revived in Vienna

AustriaAustria Strauss, Elektra: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera / Michael Boder (conductor). State Opera, Vienna, 26.6.2017. (MB)

Elektra (c) Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn


Elektra – Nina Stemme
Chrysothemis – Regine Hangler
Klytämnestra – Waltraud Meier
Orest – Alan Held
Aegisth – Herbert Lippert
First Maid – Monika Bohinec
Second Maid – Ilsyear Khayrullova
Third Maid – Ulrike Helzel
Fourth Maid – Lauren Michelle
Fifth Maid – Ildikó Raimondi
Overseer – Donna Ellen
Young Servant – Benedikt Kobel
Old Servant – Dan Paul Dumitrescu
Orest’s tutor – Wolfgang Bankl
Confidante – Simina Ivan
Trainbearer – Zoryana Kushpler


Director – Uwe Eric Laufenberg
Revival Director – Karin Voykowitsch
Sets designs – Rolf Glittenberg
Costumes – Marianne Glittenberg
Lighting – Andreas Grüter

I first saw Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s production of Elektra in 2014; two-and-a-half years on, it still impresses, although much seemed at least a degree less sharp – not in pitch, well not always…! – than first time around. Perhaps that is simply a reflection of available rehearsal time and the travails of a repertory house. It had the consequence, to my mind somewhat regrettable, of throwing the focus more upon the musical performances as such – not, of course, that they are not greatly important – and less upon the sum of the parts, or, if one must, the Gesamtkunstwerk.

As I observed last time, Laufenberg’s production is intelligent throughout and, for the work, intriguingly different, although not for the sake of ‘difference’. It is certainly infinitely preferable to his truly dreadful Bayreuth Parsifal, which manages somehow to be deathly boring and downright offensive at the same time. (Let us hope, against hope, for major revisions this summer!) Rolf Glittenberg’s set designs remain in keeping with the general ‘look’ of Elektra: does any major opera seem to lend itself less to a radical change of scenery? Accentuating the domesticity is in line with the Strauss-Hofmannsthal psychoanalytical approach to the myth. It is not that there is anything small-scale about this, but we are reminded that this is a home, a home of sadness, of ‘perversion’, whatever that might be, and far less a political setting. That said, I thought the interwar – Nazi-ish – overtones of the costumes, of the characters’ look, came across more strongly than last time. This is not simply a place of death, but a place death has visited and will not release for particular reasons. One need not worry too much about that context if one does not wish, but the uniforms and dogs are suggestive.

The lift connecting the palace proper to the courtyard remains a crucial cabinet of movement, of display, a cabinet of curiosities taken to its deadly extreme. Klytämnestra descends, twice (the second time dead) in it, and Aegisth never reaches the top. Behind the glass, the characters, above all Klytämnestra already seems encased, entombed: a taxidermist’s objet d’art, as I thought of it last time. Again, I can imagine that some might be irritated by the cliché of her wheelchair. But it is put to good, if relatively straightforward, use. Once her retinue is out of the way, she can put it to one side, actually engage with Elektra ‘as a mother’ – as Andrea Leadsom might put it. The overtly ‘beautiful’ dancers and dancing at the close, in counterpoint to Elektra’s own plight, continue to make an interesting, not un-Adornian point concerning Strauss’s score. That Adorno was, I think, quite wrong to condemn Strauss as he did is neither here nor there; we can argue about that. There is something, though, to the hollowness of the ending that merits exploration – and it receives that here.

I wrote at length on Nina Stemme’s performance last time. She is a very great singer, of course, one who pays a near ideal blend of attention – attention, moreover, that is fully achieved – between words and vocal line. That said, her performance did not grab me quite as it did in 2014, let alone as it did in the unforgettable Patrice Chéreau production (which I saw on the Met cinema broadcast last year: much better, incidentally, than when it came to Berlin that autumn). Like much else on this occasion, there seemed to be a relative disengagement. Waltraud Meier’s Klytämnestra likewise suffered from that same comparison with New York. I yield to none in my admiration for her as a singing actress, but the ‘singing’ part was unquestionably lesser on this occasion. Regine Hangler was a highly variable Chrysothemis: sometimes wildly out of tune, on other occasions – alas, too few – thrillingly able to ride the orchestral wave. Her acting skills, though, proved rudimentary: a pity. Alan Held’s Orest offered an estimable blend of musical values and subtle dramatic psychopathy. Herbert Lippert’s Aegisth was, sadly, no better than last time. The orchestra did not fail to impress; it would be a sad day indeed if this of all orchestras did not in Strauss. However, it did not impress as it had done under (the surprisingly good) Peter Schneider in 2014. Michael Boder knew how the score went, but there was a touch of fuzziness around the edges by comparison. Certain passages came a little too close to dragging. As for Esa-Pekka Salonen in New York – or indeed, Daniele Gatti in Salzburg a few years ago – that was conducting in a different league altogether.

Mark Berry

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