Great Performances at the Met | Elektra
Watch Sunday, September 18, 2016 at noon on WMHT-TV
Elektra, Richard Strauss's blazing tragedy about an ancient Greek princess hell-bent on revenge, comes to THIRTEEN’S Great Performances at the Met. The opera, the final opera production by the legendary director Patrice Chéreau who died in 2013, airs Sunday, September 18 at noon on WMHT-TV.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts an extraordinary cast headed by Nina Stemme as the obsessed and bloodthirsty title character. Waltraud Meier sings her first Met performances of Klytämnestra, Elektra's mother and the object of her fury, with Adrianne Pieczonka as Elektra's sister, Chrysothemis; Eric Owens as her exiled brother, Orest; and German tenor Burkhard Ulrich, in his Met debut, as the corrupt monarch Aegisth.
Elektra premiered in Dresden in 1909. Shortly after conquering the opera world with his scandalous masterpiece Salome, Richard Strauss turned to a recent adaptation of Sophocles’s “Electra” by Austrian author Hugo von Hofmannsthal for his next project. The drama unfolds in a single act of rare vocal and orchestral power.
The title role is demanding even by the composer’s daunting standards: Once Elektra takes the stage near the beginning of the opera, she does not leave, portraying a wide spectrum of emotions and singing over an enormous orchestra throughout the course of the work.
Munich-born Richard Strauss (1864–1949) composed an impressive body of orchestral works and songs before turning to opera. After two early failures, the 1905 premiere of Salome caused a theatrical sensation, and the balance of his long career was largely dedicated to music for the stage.
Elektra marks his first collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929), with whom he developed a partnership that became one of the most remarkable in operatic history. Hofmannsthal emerged as an author and poet within the fervent intellectual atmosphere of Vienna at the turn of the last century.
The orchestra for Elektra is often cited as the largest for any repertory opera. It includes eight clarinets, four French horns, four Wagner tubas, seven trumpets, two harps, a huge body of strings, and a substantial percussion section. The score encompasses an astonishing range of musical color: there are moments of sublime lyricism when the characters express tenderness or love, and there is brutal, harsh dissonance when they are at (or beyond) the bounds of sanity.
Elektra premiered at the Met in 1932, with Artur Bodanzky conducting and Gertrude Kappel in the title role.
Of the current production, The Financial Times raved "… the great Nina Stemme … sang with unflagging power, with volcanic compulsion in passages of desperation, with shimmering gentility in passages of reflection. She paced, pranced and stumbled with fierce freedom, exuding passion even in repose. She also summoned compelling fervour that engaged everyone around her…."
The New York Times observed, "The director Patrice Chéreau's production of Strauss's Elektra … has already been deemed a landmark of contemporary opera staging… Nothing prepared me for the seething intensity, psychological insight and sheer theatrical inventiveness of this production… Ms. Pieczonka's rich, clear voice conveys Chrysothemis's affecting vulnerability. Yet in moments of frustration and despair, her singing has bright, piercing power… The bass-baritone Eric Owens is a deeply sympathetic Orest… his rich, muscular voice is suffused with suffering..."
Soprano Renée Fleming hosts the broadcast.