LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Trojahn: Orest
PERFORMER: Dietrich Henschel, Sarah Castle, Romy Petrick, Rosemary Joshua, Finnur Bjarnason, Johannes Chum; Vocal Ensemble of the Chorus of the Netherlands Opera; Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: CC72605
Premiered in Amsterdam in 2011, and based on a play by Euripides, Manfred Trojahn’s Orest offers a strikingly dramatic single-act sequel to Richard Strauss’s Elektra. It takes up the saga of Agamemnon’s children immediately after the murder of their murderous mother Clytemnestra, but with the guilt-ridden Orestes now the focus, rather than his vengeful sister. And it tackles an issue as topical throughout the world today as it was in fifth-century Athens during the final throes of the Peloponnesian War, namely: how can we escape the vicious circle of violence and revenge, whereby yesterday’s victims become tomorrow’s perpetrators?
As in Strauss’s opera, Elektra still believes that justice can only be achieved via bloodshed, and sees Orestes simply as her killing-machine; but he, awoken to the possibility of a better life when confronted by the innocent Hermione, whose mother Helen (of Troy) he has just slain, begins to dream of an end to the killing.
Musically, Strauss’s influence is clear, too, not least in the ensemble writing for the three female leads, with contrasting coloratura sopranos Rosemary Joshua and Romy Petrick ethereally entwined as narcissistic Helen and idealistic Hermione, in contrast with mezzo-soprano Sarah Castle’s suitably baleful Elektra. But it’s Berg’s Wozzeck and Britten’s Peter Grimes that more obviously underscore the extended ‘mad scene’ that constitutes Orestes’s role. With bass-baritone Dietrich Henschel inhabiting the part with total, sometimes terrifying conviction, and electrifying conducting from Marc Albrecht, this live recording from the premiere run of the piece in 2011 amply proves why Opernwelt magazine picked Orest as its ‘Premiere of the Year’.