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SIR THOMAS BEECHAM / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Erna Schlüter (Elektra); Ljuba Welitsch (Chrysothemis); Elisabeth Höngen (Klytämnestra); Walter Widdop (Aegisth); Paul Schoffler (Orest) (rec. live London Oct.19471937)
WAGNER: Excerpts from Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Tristan und Isolde sung by Erna Schlüter.
MYTO MCD 946.117 (2 CDs)
Throughout his career Sir Thomas Beecham championed music of Richard Strauss. He conducted the first Strauss ever performed in England—Elektra—February 10, 1910 at Covent Garden. Thirty-seven years later he presented a Strauss Festival in London with his new Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1946, one year earlier. Strauss, more than eighty at the time, accepted Beecham's invitation to come to the festival, where he conducted his Symphonia domestica in Royal Albert Hall, and received many honors.
The Strauss Festival programs included two concert performances of Elektra in the BBC Concert Hall October 24/26, 1947, both highly praised by the composer. The BBC broadcast of Elektra has been issued on several pirate labels but this Myto issue offers the best sound of all. Beecham's Strauss is not as highly-charged as Reiner, Solti or Mitropoulos but it builds to a mighty climax and his attention to detail is extraordinary. Schlüter's Elektra is serviceable; she of course is no Nilsson or Varnay. Of keen interest here is the Chrysothemis of Ljuba Welitsch, one of the few complete opera recordings of the remarkable Bulgarian soprano (the others are Un ballo en maschera, Aida, Don Giovanni, La Rondine and Salome, all in live recordings, Die Fledermaus in the studio). She is perfect in the role; I prefer her to Leonie Rysanek because her vivid youthful sound is an appropriate contrast to Elektra; even though Elektra and Chrysothemis are sisters I prefer not to have them sound too similar. This is a valuable recording for Strauss lovers. At the same time as the BBC performances HMV made a studio recording of the Recognition Scene and a somewhat abbreviated version of the finale (see other Beecham listing below).
SIR THOMAS BEECHAM / ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
Erna Schlüter (Elektra); Ljuba Welitsch (Chrysothemis); Walter Widdop (Aegisth); Paul Schoffler (Orest)
PREISER 90341 TT: 68:00 (recorded Oct. 1947)
This is the recording RCA requested from HMV in October 1947 when Beecham and his forces gave two BBC performances (see story above). This recording was my first exposure to Elektra—I once owned the original four 78's as well as the RCA LP issue (LCT 1135). The recording contains the Recognition Scene and a truncated version of the finale. None of Klytämnestra's music is included—but of course we hear the two blood-curdling screams as she is murdered, presumably done by Elisabeth Höngen who sang the role in the BBC performances. Can you imagine being present at a recording for the sole purpose of providing two blood-curdling screams? Prime interest on this CD is about a half-hour of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (Prelude and final scene) with Maria Cebotari as Ariadne, also presented at the 1947 Strauss festival, reason enough to have this CD.
ARTUR RODZINSKI / New York Philharmonic Orchestra (concert abridged version)
Rose Pauly (Elektra); Charlotte Boerner (Chrysothemis); Enid Szánthó (Klytämnestra); Frederick Jagel (Aegisth); Julius Huehn (Orest)
EKLIPSE EKRCD 17 (1 CD) (rec. Mar. 21, 1937)
The Rose Pauly concert version of Elektra dates from a broadcast March 21, 1937. Born in Hungary, Pauly (1894-1975) reportedly was the most celebrated Elektra of the '30s. On this broadcast she made her American debut; the following year she would sing the same opera and others at the Met for two years. She gave many first performances including Marie in the world premiere of Berg's Wozzeck. Strauss praised her singing of his music and rightly so based on what is heard on this broadcast. Her voice is powerful, right on pitch and she obviously understands the score. It is said she was outstanding histrionically and on stage must have been a dramatic presence indeed. Charlotte Boerner, with a rather light but secure sound, is excellent as the sister, and another Hungarian, Enid Szánthó, presents a sterling Klytämnestra. Artur Rodzinski conducts superbly—what a Strauss conductor he was! Sound is surprisingly good considering the vintage but, unfortunately, there are many episodes of static-like interference; those who can tolerate this will experience a superb if truncated performance by one of the leading Elektras of the past.
RUDOLF KEMPE / ROYAL OPERA HOUSE ORCHESTRA
Gerda Lammers (Elektra); Hedwig Müller-Bütow (Chrysothemis); Georgina von Malinkovic (Klytämnestra); Otakar Kraus (Orest); David Kelly (Oreste); Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE ROHS 004 (2 CDs) TT: 54:21 & 61:46 (live 1958)
Elektra, recorded live in London's Royal Opera House May 29, 1958, receives a remarkable performance. German soprano Gerda Lammers stepped in a week before the performance to replace Christel Goltz and scored a huge triumph. She has total command of this demanding role, and it's surprising her career didn't develop further. The entire cast is outstanding, but there's no question that a major factor is the magnificent conducting of Rudolf Kempe, already recognized as a Strauss specialist, some years before he would record all of the composer's orchestral music for EMI. This is a monophonic recording, but the sound is well-balanced and satisfying. A complete libretto in German and English is included. The 14-minute "Lord Harewood in Conversation" is a dubious bonus.
KARL BÖHM / DRESDEN STATE ORCHESTRAInge Borkh (Elektra); Marianne Schech (Chrysothemis); Jean Madeira (Klytämnestra); Fritz Uhl (Aegisth); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Orest)DGG 445329 (2 CDs) (rec. Dresden 1960)
Karl Böhm's 1960 Dresden recording is outstanding in many ways. Inge Borkh is in top form in the title role, Jean Madeira here is a relatively sedate Klytämnestra. Only Marianne Schech disappoints as Chrysothemis; otherwise the cast had the luxury of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Orest and Fritz Uhl as Aegisth. This is Böhm's first commercial recorded representation of the score—and his expertise in Strauss is always apparent. Fine orchestral playing—and the early stereo recording is spacious and natural.However, later recordings of this opera with Böhm are of far greater interest.
KNUD ANDERSSON/New Orleans OrchestraInge Borkh (Elektra); Andrey Schuh (Chrysothemis); Regina Resnik (Klytämnestra); Alan Crofoot (Aegisth); Benjamin Rayson (Orestes)
VAI AUDIO VAIA 1170 (rec. Dec. 1966)
Inge Borkh's live New Orleans Opera performance of December 1966 is one of manysheof the opera she gave in smaller opera houses; this one surely sounds provincial as the audience applauds just about everyone as they appear on stage, also at climactic points in the performance (!). Surprising, as opera in New Orleans has had a distinguished history for the past century. U.S. premieres of Norma, I Puritani, Semiramide, Les Huguenots, Le Prophète , Lucia di Lammermoor, La Favorite and La Fille du Regiment took place in New Orleans along with Mignon, Le Cid, Esclarmonde, Hérodiade and Le Roi d'Ys. Borkh is reliably excellent, and Regina Resnik repeats her grim representation of Klytämenestra without the benefit of Decca's engineering in her maniacal laughing as she learns of Orestes' death. Amy Schuh's Chrysothemis is no match for the other two principals. Knud Anderson, who conducted the New Orleans opera from 1964-1979, holds things together but little more. Stereo sound is adequate and reasonably well-balanced. A bonus is three excerpts from Verdi's Macbeth from a New Orleans production of November 1967 in which Borkh is superb as Lady Macbeth, with Anton Guadagno conducting.
EUGEN JOCHUM / Hamburg State Orchestra
Erna Schlüter (Elektra); Annelies Kupper (Chrysothemis); Gusta Hammer (Klytämnestra); Peter Markwort (Aegisth); Robert Hager (Orest).
ACANTA 442 129/130 (2 CDs) (rec. June 1944)
MEMBRAN 233494 (2 disks)
A fascinating "historic recording" from Hamburg in 1944. Eugen Jochum succeeded Karl Böhm as musical director of the Hamburg Opera in 1934 and remained there until the end of the war. He proves to be a splendid conductor of Strauss operas, of course, as was his predecessor. In the title role Erna Schlüter gives a thrilling performance; she is in better condition vocally than she in the Beecham recording three years later and here one can understand why she was rated so highly during her time. Gusta Hammer, a singer totally unknown to me (although I found that she participated in an early recording of Bach's St. Matthew Passion conducted by Bruno Kittel), is outstanding, if rather laid back as Klytämnestra. Annelies Kupper appeared often at the Hamburg Opera in the early '40s, and created the title role in the 1952 Salzburg world premiere of Strauss's Die Liebe der Dana. Her singing of Chrysothemis is on the same high level as the other women principals. This is a fine performance in superb mono, well-balanced sound. As of this wriring (6/12) this performance has also been issued on the Membran label.
LOVRO VON MATACIC / BERLIN STATE OPERA
Sugrid Ekkehard (Elektra); Margarete Klose (Klytämnestra); Hedwig Müller-Bütow (Chrysothemis); Günter Treptow (Aegisth); Gerhard Niese (Orest).
GEMA SSS0049 (2 CDs) TT: 52:37 & 74:40 (live 1957)
This is a live performance from Staatsoper under den Linden October 3, 1957. Condutor Lovro von Matacic is excellent, but the cast disappoints. Few have heard of Sigrid Ekkehard, and for good reason. Volume is her biggest asset, which also could be said of the two other female singers. The remainder of the cast is also weak, the recorded sound is poorly balanced and bass heavy. The set also includes a fine performances of Strauss's Death and Transfiguration from a concert a year later. Producer of this ill-advised set was not very careful—some of the tracks of Elektra are not in the correct order, and the symphonic poem is not track 18, as listed, but is heard during the opera(!!). An embarrasing issue for the record industry, and one surely to be skipped.
FRITZ RIEGER / TEATRO LA FENICE
Inge Borkh (Elektra); Regina Resnik (Klytáaemnestra); Teresa Kublak (Chrysothemis); Niels Moreller (Aegistuhs)_; Karl Nurmela (Orestes)
MONDO CLASSICA MFOH 10505 (2 CDs) TT: 62:48 & 39:01 (live 1971)
This is a live recording from Teatro La Fenice dating from December 1971 with several aging quality singers featured: Inge Borkh in the title role, and Regina Resnik, ass the queen. This is the last Borkh recording of the role, and her voice shows definite signs of wear and tear, although histrionically she dominates the stage; Resnik is still her usual powerful self, the remainder of the cast reasonably good. although Kubiak's Chrysothemis is far removed from the glories of Rysanek, Welitsch and others who have what it takes for this demanding role. Microphones have captured many stage sounds, particularly the klumping of Borkbh's final dance.In spite of "20 Bit High Definition Remastering" there is considerable distortion.. The set, on Mondo Musica (MFOH 10503), seems to be discontinued.
SEMYON BYCHKOV / WDR ORCHESTRA
Deborah Polaski (Elektra); Anne Schwanewilms (Chrysothemis); Felicity Palmer (Clytemnestra); Graham Clark (Aegisth);Franz Grundheber (Orest); WDR Radio Chorus and Orch
PROFIL SACD PHO 5022 (2 disks) TT: 66:16 & 40:55 (2004)
he highpoint of Profil's issue of Elektra is the recorded sound—superb in every way. This is in surround sound on SACD and has not been released on regular CD. However, the SACD, when played on regular units, also contains the stereo version, which is equally impressive. Every detail of the composer's complex writing is clearly presented. in surround sound, and on occasion we find ourselves onstage with voices heard from rear speakers. Bychkov is a fine Strauss conductor, with a particular love of this opera. Apparently there were numerous rehearsals and live performances before this recording was made, obvious from the disciplined playing of the WDR Orchestra. Strauss said both Salome and Elektra should be conducted as "elfin music," which Bychkov correctly interprets as it should be played with transparency and attention to detail, surely the case here. Vocally we are on shakier ground. Deborah Polaski has been singing the role of Elektra for over two decades—more than 300 performances. At this point, she doesn't have the power or thrust—or vocal control—for the climactic moments, nor did she have them for her 1995 Berlin recording with Daniel Barenboim conducting. Now at the beginning of her career, Anne Schwanewilms impresses as Chrysothemis although she doesn't have the ease of production in her big moments. Felicity Palmer is a strong Clytemnestra. Notes are provided in German and English but the libretto doesn't have them side by side which may be inconvenient for some listeners. Audio buffs might wish to have this release solely for the sonics.
RICHARD KRAUS / Kölner Radio Symphony Orchestra
Astrid Varnay (Elektra); Res Fischer (Klytämnestra); Leonie Rysanek (Chrysothemis); Hans Hotter (Orest); Helmut Melchert (Agisth); Kölner Radio Chorus
CAPRICCIO 5008 (2 disks) TT: 35:32 & 65:01
GALA GL 100.512 (2 CDs) (rec. Aug. 1953) 75:26 & 71:07 (also contains excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier).
KOCH-SCHWANN 3-1643-2 (2 disks) TT: 35:25 & 64:53
This memorable performance of Elektra, one of the best on CD, was issued on several labels, only one, on Capriccio, is currently available—and it is budget price. This German Cologne radio performance without an audience from August 1953 features Astrid Varnay, Leonie Rysanek and Res Fischer, a terrific trio. Varnay, then in her prime (a year after her superb Met performances with Reiner), is magnificent, fearless on those high notes, with Rysanek early in her career in what was to become a signature role.. Res Fischer, also at the beginning of her career, is Klytämnestra, providing an appropriate cackle when she learns of Orestes' supposed death, as well as a vivid scream as she is murdered. And we have the luxury of Hans Hotter as the definitive Orest. Richard Krauss is not Solti or Reiner; there are few orchestral fireworks, but he is in firm control, and provides an effective pause after the second death cry of Klytämnestra. The mono sound is well-balanced and clear, excellent for its time. The well filled Gala CDs (75:26 and 71:07) also contain about 46 minutes of Der Rosenkavalier from a Met broadcast of Feb. 28, 1953 with Varnay as the Marschallin, Risè Stevens as Octavian; Nadine Connor was Sophie in that broadcast—none of her music is included which means no final trio. This is one of the best Elektras on CD.
DANIEL BARENBOIM / BERLIN STATE OPERA ORCHESTRADeborah Polaski (Elektra); Alessandra Marc (Chrysothemis); Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra); Johan Botha (Aegisth); Falk Struckmann (Orest)TELDEC 99175 (2 CDs) (rec. February 1995)
The star of this recording is Waltraud Meier who obviously relishes her return to mezzo repertory. Her singing of Klytämnestra is among the best on recordings. Deborah Polaski's Elektra is striking in its boldness, but obviously she is stressed and edgy in this difficult role. Alessandra Marc's Chrysothemis is tenuous and she seems to have little vocal reserve. For certain she is better as the sister than she in the title role in Sinopoli's recording made the same year. The two men are excellent. Barenboim's reading is rather understated, rather as if he were conducting Rosenkavalier instead of the composer's bloodiest, most dissonant opera. Teldec's engineering is first-rate.
WOLFGANG SAWALLISCH / Bavarian Radio Orchestra
Eva Marton (Elektra); Cheryl Studer (Chrysothemis); Marjana Lipovsek (Klytämnestra); Hermann Winkler (Aegisthus); Bernd Weikl (Orest).
EMI 54067 (2 CDs) (rec. 1990) (currently available only on MP3)
Elektra was considered to be one of Eva Marton's finest roles. She has a powerhouse of a voice with remarkable volume and stamina. Unfortunately subtlety is not part of her arsenal—she just belts it out in her own way, impressive for sheer volume but not very pleasant to hear—and not always quite on pitch. Cheryl Studer is splendid as Chrysothemis, Marjana Lipovsek a strong Klytämnestra, with the two leading men all one could wish for. It must be said that Sawallisch's love for the score is ever-apparent. He manages to make the Bavarian RSO sound like the VPO—and, as he did in his live RAI performance. Sawallisch makes a considerable pause (as does Richard Kraus) after the second scream as Klytämnestra is murdered—a terrific theatrical effect. EMI's stereo sound is all one could ask—but I can't help but wish that Nilsson was in the title role instead of Marton. Sawallisch and the others deserve better. Marton is in better vocal condition in the 1989Vienna State Opera conducted by Claudio Abbado, but that production, on DVD, visually is a mess. I am surprised Abbado tolerated this aberration of strauss's masterpiece.
FRIEDEMANN LAYER / Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon National Orchestra
Hildegard Behrens (Elektra); Luana DeVol (Chrysothemis); Leonie Rysanek (Klytämnestra); Daniel Galvez-Vallejo (Aegisth); Wolfgang Schone (Orest).
NAÏVE AT 34109 (2 CDs) (live concert 3 August 1995)
Seven years after her Boston live performance Behrens gave this performance in France. Her artistry remains, her voice still had much of its glory of past years. Her cry "Orest!" in the recognition scene is magnificent, although she doesn't slide off the final note of the opera as she did so effectively in the 1988 performance. Rysanek's Klytämnestra is near perfect, with her huge voice providing an appropriately matronly aspect to the character. She makes the laugh almost a takeoff on Brünnhilde's Battle Cry, and it sounds as if she does the two screams as she is murdered—blood-curdling, too. DeVol is a rather wobbly Chrysothemis, hardly an appropriate match for her colleagues. The stereo sound, courtesy of the French Radio, is excellent, the French orchestra plays well, but conductor Layer misses much of the score's drama. Of interest primarily for Rysanek's Klytämnestra. This fine performance, unfortunately, currently is unavailable.
FRITZ REINER/Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Inge Borkh (Elektra); Frances Yeend (Chrysothemis); Paul Schoeffler (Orest):
RCA 67900 (also contains Dance of the Seven Veils and final scene from Salome with Inge Borkh). (rec. in 1956)
In 1956 Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony were planning concert performances of Elektra in collaboration with RCA. When the latter refused to record the entire opera, Reiner presented a 72-minute concert version omitting all of Klytämnestra's music and some excerpts were recorded: Elektra's soliloquy "Allein! Weh, ganz allein," the complete Recognition Scene, and the opera's finale. Of course they missed the boat—they should have recorded the entire opera, just as Columbia's oversight in 1949 when they recorded just the final scene of Salome with Reiner and Ljuba Welitsch. However, we are thankful for what we have.These excerpts from Elektra are first-rate throughout. Frances Yeend isn't an ideal Chrysothemis, but her lighter voice is a welcome contrast to Borkh—and Paul Schoeffler is a superb Orest. Reiner is the real star here, a Straussian of the first order—he makes the most of the orchestral interlude following Elektra's cry of "Orest!" in the Recognition Scene, with the CSO brass in full glory; there is no other recording quite like it. The Chicago Symphony is resplendent, and this is one of the finest examples of RCA's Living Stereo Chicago recordings sounding better than ever in this Living Stereo SACD issue. There also is a Reiner Met broadcast of Feb. 23, 1952 with Astrid Varnay, Walburga Wegner (who recorded Salome in Vienna with Rudolf Moralt conducting), and Elisabeth Höngen, available in a 3 LP set from the Metropolitan Opera (MET 9) which also contains the 1952 Salome with Welitsch/Reiner (too bad they didn't use the 1949 performance, which is the better of the two). Varnay sang 5 performances of Elektra at the Met in 1952. She had sung Salome three times at the Met from 1950-1952 (as well as three Brünnhildes), returning to the Met from 1975-1977 when she sang 8 performances of Klytämnestra and 3 of Herodias. Doubtless eventually this Elektra will be issued on CD; it is of the greatest interest. It shoud be mentioned that in recent years all of Reiner's recordings have been ddigitally remastered and reissued usually in budget editions
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Toonkunst Choir Amsterdam and soloists all conducted by Marc Albrecht. (2011)
Challenge Classics – CC72565
This Elektra from the Netherlands Opera is a knock-out in every way. Apparently this production by Willy Decker was so successful that it has been revived several times. Although no performance date is given, probably what we hear is a presentation from this past season. German soprano Evelyn Herlitzius has been singing major Wagner and Strauss roles.for about a decade in Dresden as well as other opera houses including Vienna, Berlin and La Scala, As Elektra she is quite remarkable, giving 110% right from her opening monologue. She has the power to accommodate conductor Marc Albrecht's leisurely tempi, and dramatically she is totally convincing. She might not have the sheer power of Nilsson at her best, but. there is no question that Herlitzius is among the finest singer of this demanding role of our time. Equally impressive is Michaela Schuster's Klytämnestra, firmly projected with a vulnerable quality usually not conveyed, and Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund, who herself has sung much Strauss and Wagner, is a perfect foil as the younger sister. Here she has controlled the vibrato that marred her recent solo disk. Gerd Grochowski is a strong Orest, as is Hubert Delamboye as the doomed Aegisth. Although Marc Albrecht is sensitive to the tender moments of the score, he maintains tension throughout, and the orchestra is magnificent. Engineering captures rich orchestral textures to perfection. Perhaps this outstanding performance eventually will be issued on DVD; I surely hope so.