Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This had been big on my list of expectations - I didn't care so much about who sang and how, within the usual parameters, but it was all about the Gewandhausorchester playing Strauss, playing Elecktra, in the soviet style Leipzig opera house opposite their own contemporary recital hall with Ulf Schirmer conducting.

Klytemnestra Doris Soffel
Elektra Janice Baird
Chrysothemis Gun-Brit Barkim
Aegisth Viktor Sawaley
Orest Toumas Pursio

Director Peter Konwitschny (Leipzig's 'resident' producer)
(This Elektra is from the mid2000's, seen in Copenhagen, Stuttgart...)

Sitting a few rows back in the stalls, this is what we first saw:

The mirror 'curtain' is reflecting the house, not too long before the start, and its not anywhere near full, reaching at a guess 60% capacity. Next, see the ancient bath centre stage - that's where the young Argamenon is playing with his three children, they in swimmers with floaties, rubber duckies, water pistols, learning to swim, survive, playing shootings and scaring one and other playing dead.

After the conductor enters (silently) and the orchestra (huge, maybe not the 111 scored, but maybe yes) warm up stops and the auditorium falls silent, two doors open in the mirrors, and out stride Klytemnestra and her lover. Screaming children, blood squirting high, dead daddy in the bath.

Just as the murderers retreat and the doors close, the shattering Argamenon motif explodes from the pit as the mirrored front splits into two to become the sides of the set. Pretty good start as far as I was concerned. The production style from now on is not so hard to predict - Argamenon and bath (and metaphor) always present, variably moved around by Elektra, even ghosting himself out as a quasi-pacificist trying to stop Orest's capitulation. The style is contemporary, slick white leather minimalist sitting room, reflecting walls (looking at self, nothing outside, only the within). The lesbian element is particularly strong - Klytemnesta's attendants are tough chick security guards, and the Elektra Chrysothemis mental seduction about as physical as it could get - sitting astride with forced (and rejected) kissing. This even extended to Chrysothemis pouring forth (some of the best singing of the night) her fabulous 'I wanna be me' aria evoking pregnancy with Elektra's frock coat cardigan stuffed up her dress.

That the axe (nor the hatchet) was never buried mattered little, in fact was the point, though that it was a bit obviously a silly rubber one, and later to become bullets started to stretch things. But even so, it was well in the spirit of the piece. The great finale, and here's the spoiler, is complete mayhem. The Queen and consort are shot in full view, as is everybody else in the world, dysfunctional family included. I like the concept - revenge, murder, any attack, is self-perpetuating, it never stops. It begets. And killing anyone or anything is killing everyone and everything - all things are joined.

But it did serve to reduce focus on the descent of Elektra into death, from within rather than from without, although I wont dispute that there is no difference there either; there is no without, only the without that is the projection of the within.

My major production quibble really is the time clock rear projection - the sort of concept that is a bit tired as soon as its been thought of, let alone some six years later. Anyway, it was easy to switch off from it, and also fun to think - 12:42 till she cops it!

The musical values were stunning. Beyond expectations. And the final bars were quite overwhelming and the only real time I teared up (though the initial 'I love you father' motif gets me every time). Doris Soffel completely dominated the stage when she was on, totally and always in character, a powerful yet degraded and degrading creature. She was mesmerising. And I loved Gun-Brit Barkim's lost sister, innocence trapped. The voice is big, she soared over the dense orchestration, with a round oaky timbre, an older sound than the girl as presented but of no matter, she is the more mature, the only mature character in the family, completely understandably unable to extricate herself from the madness.

Which leaves Janice Baird's Elektra. Now I don't imagine anyone should criticise anyone who can actually sing Elektra, and Baird can sure sing it. She cuts and stabs, seduces, and embraces the final oblivion with all stops out. But - I never once believed in her. She was, frankly, just not psycho enough. This woman is seriously deranged. She should be snorting on the glass table top, or sniffing gas (David Lynch where are you) not sipping a whisky with mother. She's hallucinating, she's out of time and place. Baird, in jeans and black tee shirt (you know that look), looked (though didn't sound, not for a minute) as if this was just another run through.

Never mind. A great night, a great work, and as fabulous a sound as I'm ever likely to hear. Here's a curtain call shot

and a preview is here.


Anonymous said...

That was an account worth waiting for (after the teaser headline without a post earlier in the week). I am trying to suppress my envy.

wanderer said...

Not a teaser, truly, a mistake, you Hawk-Eye you. I hadn't even noticed that refection - the kind of thing I neurotically try to avoid.