Strauss: Elektra at the Royal Opera House | Live Review

Francis Muzzu
Thursday, January 25, 2024

Antonio Pappano leads a visceral presentation of Strauss' Elektra


Nina Stemme as Elektra and Sara Jakubiak as Chrysothemis in Elektra  | Photo: Tristram Kenton

Christof Loy’s production of Elektra is very good as far as it goes: revivable rather than illuminating. He eschews anything Greek for a Viennese mansion from the early twentieth century and Johannes Leiacker’s set reveals a rather less smart area of the Atrean palace, a grotty courtyard where the disgruntled staff take a break to linger on their opinions about Elektra. A windowed gallery overlooks the space, allowing us to glimpse the elegant upstairs that these workers service, and also allowing those inside to take a sweeping view of events downstairs and decide whether to leave their privileged world and descend via the steps in the corner. It is an effective space and gets the job done, though bad luck anyone sitting on the far right of the theatre.

But what happens within it is more interesting. Loy and his cast have obviously worked hard on depicting the complex interrelationships between the three main characters. Klytemnestra, the queen who murdered her husband and married her lover: and her daughters  - Elektra, banished to the courtyard and whose every fibre is concentrated on avenging her father, and the weaker Chrysothemis, always torn between supporting her sister and achieving her own dreams of traditional womanhood.

Nina Stemme as Elektra | Photo: Tristram Kenton

Nina Stemme should have sung the title role here four years ago, a lockdown cancellation, and I fear that time has taken its toll. It’s certainly taken her top C, squeaked once and subsequently avoided, and some of her Bs were optimistic. She was obviously unwell and cancelled later performances. She transposed down at one point and lacked support in the middle range, cracking badly when she turned some softer phrases. But that is just a small percentage of the role and for the rest she remains mighty, the massive voice warm and enveloping, her dramatic conviction unquestioned, though her bathetic final dance was more ageing raver than demented frenzy of death.

The cast of Christoph Loy's new Elektra at the Royal Opera House | Photo: Tristram Kenton

Karita Mattila is an interesting choice as Klytemnestra, the ultimate Mommie Dearest. She has glamour in spades and certainly conveyed the self-conflicting complexities of the woman, enmeshed in a nightmare of luxurious emotional avoidance. But her voice has a soft grain and no amount of spitting consonants will compensate for a missing profundity of tone, particularly chest. So, the soaring soprano of Sara Jakubiak stole the vocal honours unchallenged as the vacillating and petrified Chrysothemis.  Łukasz Goliński’s Orest was firm of voice, blank of demeanour. Charles Workman made the most of his moments as Ägisth and the supporting cast was solid. Conducting his last new production as Music Director, Antonio Pappano was both bold yet detailed, but slightly lacking individuality. The playing was excellent but at no point did I get goosebumps.

Elektra is at the Royal Opera House until 30 January 2024.

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