Sunday, December 27, 2009

Met - Elektra - 12/26/09

Composer: Richard Strauss
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Otto Schenk
Elektra: Sandra Bullock
Chrysothemis: Deborah Voigt
Klytamnestra: Felicity Palmer

By the time Saturday morning came around, there was not a lot of snow left on the ground and we had the relentlessly falling rain to thank for that. It, however, did not bode well for the start of the weekend. It is not like I terribly mind getting up at 4:45 am (even after my upstairs neighbors had kept me up until past 12:30 am), but walking under a torrential downpour for 40 minutes on my way to the bus stop really did not qualify as a good start of the day. On the other hand, there was no way I was going to missed the UK's rising soprano Sandra Bullock scheduled to make her Met debut in the reassuring company of Met superstar soprano Deborah Voigt. Not to mention that Strauss' terrifically expressionnist and brutally difficult music is usually reason enough to justify yet another trip up the 95. Overflowing with fury, madness, hatred and revenge, Elektra may not be everybody's idea of entertainment for Christmas weekend, but then again, why be everybody?

The fact of the matter is, Sophocles' tragedy about the young Greek princess obsessed with killing her mother because she and her lover killed her father is pretty heavy stuff. It first inspired Hugo von Hofmannstahl to turn it into a play, and later into a libretto for Richard Strauss in what would be the start of a long and fruitful collaboration. The German composer eventually came up with a one-act opera focusing almost exclusively on Elektra's debilitating thirst for revenge, unmistakably reminiscent of Salome in its viscerally tempered heroine and Hamlet in its iffily dysfunctional family. Such intensely lived issues, so little time...
After more than 50 presentations around the world, the title role is certainly no stranger to Sandra Bullock, and yesterday she slid into Elektra's skin with some impressive poise. Her voice had no problem fiercely impersonating her character's unstable state of mind and changing moods, but it also had to suffer the indignity of occasionally being overpowered by an irrationally loud orchestra. Of course, one could argue that it was a perfectly appropriate way to play Strauss' blazingly modern score, but too much is too much. As her milder sister, Deborah Voigt had no trouble making herself heard over the more subdued music she is associated with and offered a touchingly human Chrysothemis, a welcome breath of sanity in the decidedly unhealthy atmosphere of the court. The rest of the cast did a remarkable job as well, especially Felicity Parker who did not hesitate to crank up the madness quotient of a pitifully out-of-control Klytamnestra.
The set was simple enough to keep us focused on the music and the action, although it did feature the large statue of a horse broken in two, a stately symbol of nobility and chaos. The music, to be performed by an unusually large orchestra, can be blatantly grating with its resounding dissonances and other modern techniques, but it also offers beautiful lyricism when things calm down. Yesterday afternoon, guest conductor Fabio Luisi kept constantly busy trying to tame the wild score and did not always succeed. But still, each character's predominant traits were vividly, if often not subtly, emphasized by their respective recurring musical phrasings, therefore creating a wide range of raging colors. A virtuosic composition and excellent singers for a tough day at the court... and yet another satisfying trip to the Met.

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