Strauss: Elektra

PERFORMER: Melanie Diener, Rudolf Schasching,Alfred Muff; Chor des OpernhausesZürich, Orchester der Oper Zürich/Christoph von Dohnanyi


In Austrian director Martin Kusej’s modern-dress Zurich Opera staging of Strauss’s Sophoclean shocker, the murdered Agamemnon’s palace has become home to a non-stop orgy.

The gossipy ‘maids’ at the start are clearly a fresh shift of sex-workers, donning fishnet stockings and frilly aprons in preparation for another hard day’s grind. Later the stage is crisscrossed by frantically running figures, stripping as they go, until the floor is carpeted in bare flesh like a Spencer Tunick photoshoot.

With Mycenae ruled by a sexmaniac, even the stableboys spend their days in the saddle. In androgynous internal exile from all this depravity, and in barren contrast to her hormonally overcharged sister, skulks Elektra herself, a blonde, blue-eyed punk of a tomboy in trousers and hoodie, the classic troubled teenager consumed by hate for all around her.

As she scrabbles in the dirt for the axe with which her mum killed her dad, we even catch a brief glimpse of the happier younger self she buried deep in the same hole.

But despite fearless performances from Marjana Lipovsek and Eva Johansson as the mutually destructive mother and child, and powerful if possibly slightly clinical conducting from Dohnányi, this is ultimately a reductive approach: more a textbook study in adolescent angst than the mythic working-out of atavistic blood-guilt.


For that, go to Nilsson and Rysanek live at the Met in 1980, Rysanek and Varnay under Böhm in 1981 (both on DG) or, most compelling of all, Eva Marton and Brigitte Fassbaender at the Vienna State Opera in 1989 (Arthaus), directed in almost impenetrable gloom by Harry Kupfer but illuminatingly conducted by Claudio Abbado.