STRAUSS: Elektra
Iréne Theorin (Elektra); Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra); Eva-Maria Westbroek (Chrysothemis); Robert Gambill (Aegisth); René Pape (Orest); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Daniele Gatti, cond.

Music of Johann Strauss, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss, Carl Ziehrer, Hans Christian Lumbye, and Tchaikovsky
Vienna Philharmnonic Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
SONY CLASSICAL 191481 (2 disks)

STRAUSS: Befreit, Op. 39 No. 4. Winterliebe, Op. 48 No. 5. Traum durch die Dämmerung, Op. 29 No. 1. Gesang der Apollopriesterin, Op. 33 No. 2. Concluding scene Act I of Arabella. Eine Alpensinfonie.
Renée Fleming, soprano; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.

Usually I don't enjoy operas being updated—opera directors/designers have gone entirely too far imposing their ill-advised concepts to masterpieces—but sometimes—not often—it works, as it does on this new version of Elektra directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff from the Salzburg Festival 2010. The concept is surprising, but not unreasonable. Striking sets are dramatically lit at key moments. Costumes for the men are updated to modern times, but Elektra is dressed in tattered black. Klytämnestra is garbed in an outrageous mod colored costume with a boa—very effective indeed, particularly when sung and acted as well as it is here by the remarkable Waltraud Meier. She meets her doom in a quite stunning conclusion. Iréne Theorin is a magnificent Elektra, Eve-Maria Westbroek excellent as her sister, and she gets better as the opera progresses. Daniele Gatti's direction focuses on the lyric elements of Strauss's score; don't expect the tension heard in performances by Solti or Reiner. It is unfortunate that Martin Kern's video direction focuses most of the time on close-ups that are too close. Audio is excellent, with fine balance between singers and orchestra. This is an outstanding Elektra in many ways.

The 2012 VPO New Year's Concert was reviewed on this site site recently in its CD format. This concert (the 72nd) was of particular interest. Marissa Jansons was on the podium for the first time since 2006, and the orchestra was at its finest, which is as good as it gets. The concert opens with a rousing performance of Patriotic March by Johann II and Josef Strauss, only one of several works receiving their premieres at these concerts. Particularly enchanting is the delightful Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop by Hans Christian Lumbye. High spirits prevail throughout, and the Berlin Teldex Studio audio is stunning—the VPO has never sounded more resplendent. The concert, which was seen by millions world-wide, is available on two CDs, or DVD and DVD Blu Ray. All are budget-price issues, and I'd suggest the Blu Ray version for a stunning video/audio experience.

A feast for Strauss lovers can be seen on Opus Arte's DVD featuring Renée Fleming with the Vienna Philharmonic directed by Christian Thielemann. The concert was filmed at the Salzburg Festival August 7-8, 2011 and finds the famous soprano in peak form. She sings the concluding scene of Arabella, one of her favorite roles, and several lieder. Of particular interest here is Gesang der Apollopriesterin, the second of four songs composed in 1896 to a text by Emmanuel von Bodman, a description by an impassioned priestess describing the naked forest rituals of Apollo's followers. As Stephen Jay-Taylor's notes suggest, the music has much of the sensuality that would be evident in the composer's Salome, composed in 1906. As you would expect from the Vienna Philharmonic, Strauss's descriptive mountain venture is superbly played. During the third section, The Ascent, Strauss's score calls for an off-stage brass complement of 12 horns, 2 trumpets and 2 trombones, to be heard from the distance. This episode doesn't amount to much in this performance. The sound is very distant, and it surely doesn't sound like there are more than a dozen brass instruments involved—and we never see them. However, we do see the unusual percussion up close: wind and thunder machine. Audio is excellent, as is the video, but the camera devotes too much time, in my opinion, to close ups of individual players. Three other DVDs have been mentioned on this site: Nagano, Berlin Orchestra (REVIEW), Sinopoli, Dresden (REVIEW), and Järvi/Netherlands Residency Orchestra (REVIEW). Of these, my favorite is the Nagano, which has, in addition to a superb performance, magnificent sound.

R.E.B. (June 2012)