Thursday 11 September 2008

Elektra on DVD: Claudio Abbado conducts brilliant Kupfer staging in Vienna

Elektra. Vienna State Opera 1989. Director: Harry Kupfer. Eva Marton (Elektra), Cheryl Studer (Chrysothemis), Brigitte Fassbaender (Klytemnestra), Franz Grundheber (Orestes). Conductor: Claudio Abbado. More details here.

This staggeringly beautiful staging is both dark, elegant and simple and succeeds in capturing the eerie mythological essence of Elektra without being burdened by the dust of Ancient Greece.

The opera takes place at the feet of a fallen giant statue of Agamemnon, where the exquisite use of lighting creates several interchanging spaces. It is not only dark. It is very dark. The direction of the singers (Kupfer´s trademark) is excellent and reveals Kupfer´s tendency towards continuous movement of his characters. The three women are clad in black with varying degrees of face paint, while Klytemnestra´s ladies move around the feet of Agamemnon like cats.
I´ve never really taken to Eva Marton´s voice, but in 1989, though past her prime, she was still acceptable and nothing like the horrors of the years to come, where she ruined countless of my favourite parts in my favourite operas....

Though Cheryl Studer´s voice at times seems stretched as Chrysothemis she is wonderfully expressive. Brigitte Fassbaender is superb as Klytemnestra bringing all the characterization from a Winterreise as well as splendid acting to the part. It is probably not Franz Grundheber´s fault that I find him rather irritating as well as vocally dry.

If Claudio Abbado is mediocre in anything, I have yet to hear it. Also with Elektra, somewhat outside his normal turf, he is excellent providing a detailed, balanced reading. Not overly dramatic, but never placid or monotonous. Why o why has he not focused more on Richard Strauss and Wagner?

This Elektra production is still in the current repertoire at the Vienna State Opera.

I would recommend this DVD as the allround best Elektra. The best alternative is Martin Kusej´s modern, but superb Zurich production with an excellent Eva Johansson. A very traditional Elektra with Birgit Nilsson and Leonie Rysanek is available from the MET 1980. Finally, there is Götz Friedrich´s film with Leonie Rysanek as Elektra conducted by Böhm.

Eva Marton and Cheryl Studer:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Eva Marton: 4
Cheryl Studer: 4-5
Brigitte Fassbaender: 5
Franz Grundheber: 3

Harry Kupfer´s production: 5
Claudio Abbado: 5

Overall impression: 4

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