Richard Strauss' 'Elektra' in Bologna,
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Elektra is one of the most performed operas by Richard Strauss on a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Over the last few years, M&V, has carried some twenty reviews. In Italy, the work has been shown in almost all major opera houses and in some provincial theatres (Bolzano, Piacenza, Modena and Catania). In Bologna, it was only previously performed once, in 1969, and in an Italian translation which made the audience miss the painstaking work of the composer and of the poet to have a perfect match between words and music.
Thus, it is good news that finally this 'tragedy in one act' has arrived in Bologna in an unabridged version, co-produced with the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. After seven performances in Bologna, the production is scheduled to open the opera season in Reggio Emilia. I saw and heard the production in Bologna on 15 November 2015.
As the 'tragedy in one act' is very well known, I will deal only with the specifications of this production. The stage director (Guy Joosten) and his team (Patrick Kinmonth for sets and costumes, and Manfred Voss for lighting) place the opera not in the Mycenaean royal palace several centuries BC — ie during the time of the Trojan war — but in a half-destroyed German baroque building in the nineteen forties. At first sight, the audience felt that the setting was Eastern Germany in the mid-forties (because Elektra's maids change in a locker room and wear grey uniforms).
As the plot unfolds, especially when Aegisth arrives in Nazi attire, it is clear that we are in the final part of World War II, when the German downfall is approaching. This is even more explicit in the final scene: while on the lower part of the stage Elektra is dancing out of happiness for the deaths of Aegisth and Klytämnestra, on an upper balcony Orest is carrying out a real carnage of those who served Aegisth and Klytämnestra after Agamenon's murder. Thus the key dramaturgic theme is not the confrontation between three women (Elektra, Klytämnestra and Chrysothemis) with serious psychological problems — after all, we are in Sigmund Freud's time — or the search for pardon, but the downfall of a society.
The musical direction is perfectly in line with this interpretation of the 'tragedy'. Conductor Lothar Zagrosek is a contemporary music specialist and has recorded for Decca the full operatic series of Entartete Musik (ie music forbidden during Nazism because it was considered to be degenerate). Thus he is particularly suited to handle a score in which everything is extreme — from the dissonances to the experiment with atonalism, from melodic flows to chromatic passages.
The vocal cast is perfectly integrated with this reading of the score. It is a very cohesive cast because they have already staged Elektra in Barcelona and Brussels. Natascha Petrinsky is Klytämnestra, Elena Nebera is Elektra, Anna Gabler: Chrysothemis, Jan Vacik: Aegisth and Thomas Hall: Orest.
The performance was followed by almost ten minutes of ovations.Copyright © 20 November 2015 Giuseppe Pennisi,