Norrlands Operan’s Symphony Orchestra play Strauss

'Its sheer hallucinatory power holds the watcher'

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: C Major
ALBUM TITLE: Strauss
WORKS: Elektra
PERFORMER: Ingela Brimberg, Susanna Levonen, Ingrid Tobiasson, Thomas Lander, Magnus Kyhle, Lennart Forsén, Margaretha Dahlmann, Agneta Lundgren, Katarina Leoson, Sara Olsson, Karin Andersson, Niklas Björlig Rygert, Annelie Lindfors; Norrlands Operan’s Symphony Orchestra/Rumon Gamba; dir. Carlus Padrissa (Sweden, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 731808; Blu-ray: 731904

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This is one of those outdoor operatic extravaganzas, mounted on an ex-army site in Umea, Sweden; but that doesn’t disqualify it artistically. For one thing, the Swedish singers form a strong ensemble, as far as one can judge via head-mics. Despite these, Ingela Brimberg’s voice sounds a little light for the role, but unlike some more famous exponents she genuinely sings as well as acts, seldom sacrificing its lyrical line for mere intensity. Likewise Ingrid Tobiasson’s conventionally neurotic Klytaemnestra, despite a ludicrous nude bodysuit, and Thomas Lander’s Orest, though he could sound more haunted. Susanna Levonen’s bright Chrysothemis hasn’t much emotional depth. Magnus Kyhle’s crude Aegisth and the smaller roles, like Rumon Gamba’s energetic but rather prosaic conducting, are serviceable.

It’s staged by Catalan producer Carlus Padrissa’s ensemble La Fura dels Baus, famous for productions combining visionary spectacle with generally intelligent drama, in particular their Ring cycle for Valencia and Houston, Texas. Here the protagonists emerge from gigantic puppet self-images, Elektra and Chrysothemis soaring across the night sky, mirrored in bloody pools of water; Klytaemnestra on a sort of crinoline-cum-throne covered in body-suited dancers, who tail after her like embodiments of her nightmares; Orest, haloed by his name in flaming Greek characters. Nevertheless the action remains broadly drawn but clear, although the vast concluding torrent of ‘blood’ risks drowning the music.

This is more than the souvenir of a showy occasion, therefore, and its sheer hallucinatory power holds the watcher. All the same, it doesn’t really match the best DVD Elektras. For me Patrice Chéreau’s much touted Aix-en-Provence staging is overrated, especially Evelyn Herlitzius’s nervy but wavery-voiced heroine. Much better is the late Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s creepy Salzburg production, intently conducted by Daniele Gatti with Iréne Theorin’s beautifully nuanced and dramatically disturbing Elektra heading a superlative cast.

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Michael Scott Rohan