Ozawa / Behrens /Boston / 1988

SEIJI OZAWA / Boston Symphony Orchestra
Hildegard Behrens (Elektra); Nadine Secunde (Chrysothemis); Christa Ludwig (Klytämnestra); Ragnar Ulfung (Aegisth); Jorma Hynninen (Orest).
PHILIPS 422 574 (2 CDs) (rec. live 1988) (reissued on Philips Duo - 464 985)

This concert performance with the Boston Symphony is excellent in many ways. Hildegard Behrens is superb, right-on for those high notes, and I like the way she slides off the final A# - an appropriately maniacal effect. Throughout her characterization is strong, the drama intense. Christa Ludwig is in the same class (I wonder what the audiences thought in the concert performance when Ludwig does that series of hysterical laughs—and the screams as she is murdered?). Unfortunately Nadine Secunde's Chrysothemis isn't up to her associates' standard. The men are fine, and the Boston Symphony produces beautiful sounds. Ozawa doesn't generate much excitement (which can also be said of his slack recording of Salome)—there is little of the demonic drive of many other conductors, particularly Solti, Böhm, Reiner and Mitropoulos. Admirers of Behrens and Ludwig surely will wish to have this recording.

Böhn / Nilsson / Paris / 1973

Birgit Nilsson (Elektra); Leonie Rysanek (Chrysothemis); Astrid Varnay (Klytemnestra); Richard Lewis (Aegisth); Hans Sotin (Orest); Paris Opera Orch / Karl Böhm, cond.
GOLDEN MELODRAM 3.0008 (2 disks) TT: 59:07 & 43:44

Elektra was one of the greatest triumphs of soprano Birgit Nilsson; her famous Decca recording conducted by Sir Georg Solti was made in 1967 and remains one of the finest ever made.Her 1980 Met performance is available on DVD and there are a numb er of other live recordings. . This Melodram release of a performance in Paris April 21, 1975 does show her in her prime, surrounded by a splendid cast, and conducted by Karl Böhm whose presence vitalizes the Paris Orchestra. Sound quality is good enough, and this was, indeed, an exciting night at the opera. There are no program notes: instead we have a transcription from a 1997 German television production of a conversation between Birgit Nilsson, Astrid Varnay and Martha Mödl, three of the greatest Wagnerian sopranos of the century. It's highly entertaining, but is even better if you see the video, available from Berkshire Record Outlet (DVD5961).

Evelyn Herlitzios (Elektra). Anne Schwanewilms (Chrysothemis). Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra). René Pape (Orest). Frnk Van Aker (Aegisth). Dresden State Opera/Christian Thielemann, cond.
DECCA 479 3387 (2 disks) TT:51:51:51 & 52:24

German sooprano Evelyn Herlitzius (b. 1963) has has had a successful career singing Waner at Bayreuth, and today today is famous for her Elektra. She has sung it a number of times, and three of her performances are available for collectors. First is this concert performance given in January 2014 in Berlin's Philharmonie, and it is superb. Another exciting new soprano is Anne Schwanewilnis delivers the soaring lines of Chrysothemie. The amazing Waltraud Meierhere, who has been accaimed for her Wagner performances since 1980, is a diabolical Klytämnest.Thielemann as always is in total control of orchestral forces, and audio is excellent. from Paris conducted by Essa Pekka-Salonen. . All are very good indeed, but surely the one to experience is the video where Herlitzius's remarkable dramaic instincts are supreme.

Erna Schlüter (Elektra). Gusta Hammer (Klytämnestra). Annelies Kupper (Chrysothemis). Peter Markwort (Aegisth). Robert Hager (Orest). Hamburg StateOpera Chorus and Orchestra . Eugen Jochum, cond
MEMBRAN 04888 (2 disks) TT: 106:46

This 1944 recording is one of the most impressive of rec Elektras on disks. It features German soprano Erna Schlüter in the title role; it is said that Strauss complimented interpretation of the role, and judging by this performance it is easy to understand why. Unfortunately she was not as impressive when she made her 1947 BBC performance and RCA recording with Sir Thomas Beecham. Outstanding singing throughout, with Gerda Hammer a powerful queen (her laughs after her encounter with Elektra are perfect, and her screams as she is being murdered are chiling. Anneliese Kupper is an assured younger sister. Eugen Jochum, best known for his interpretations os Bruckner and standard classics, is a master of Strauss. The mono audio is excellent, wide-range nd well-balanced. Every Elektra collection should have this.

GIUSEPPE SINOPOLI / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Alessandra Marc (Elektra); Deborah Voigt (Chrysothemis); Hanna Schwarz (Klytämnestra); Siegfried Jerusalem (Aegisth); Samuel Ramey (Orest)
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON 453 429 (2 CDs) (rec. Sept. 1995)

Luxurious packaging—and luxurious sound from the Vienna Philharmonic. Unfortunately the performance is diminished from the beginning by Alessandra Marc in the title role; she simply doesn't have the necessary power in her upper register. She sounds stressed on those crucial high notes and cannot sustain some of them. Deborah Voight would have been a better choice for the leading role, but she is a fine Chrysothemis. Hanna Schwarz's queen lacks the despair and venom many others find in the role. DGG's engineering places Schwarz's non-menacing laugh in the distance which perhaps it where it should be. It seems like luxury casting as well to have Siegfried Jerusalem as Aegisth and Samuel Ramey as Orest, but the latter was having a bad day when this recording was made. Sinopoli in his own rather placid way revels in Strauss's rich orchestration, but there's little tension and the final crashing C-major chords sound perfunctory and over-rushed. DG's engineers have done a spectacular job in capturing the rich sound of the VPO, which is at its radiant best.

Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet (Elektra). Angela DeNoke (Chrysothemis). Dame Felicity Palmer (Klytämnestra). Matthias Goerne (Orest). Ian Storey (Aegisth). London Sympohony Orchestra / Valery Gergiev, cond.
LSO LIVE 0701 (2 disks) TT: 57:22 / 51:00

This Elektra is from performances in London's Barbican Hall in January 2010. It is, without doubt, the worst professional performance of Strauss's masterpiece I have experienced. The two male singers, Mathias Goerne and Ian Storey, are fine artists, but the three female leads are inadequate. In spite of her French-sounding name, Jeanne--Michelle Charbonnet is an American soprano who has had some success in he operatic world. Her voice is ugly, uncontrolled and often off pitch. And she surely doesn't have the powerhouse quality essential for this most demanding of soprano roles .Angela DeNoke also has a modest career, but her Chrisothemis is weak, and her off-pitch cries of Orest! in the final scene bring this dismal performance to a welcome close. English mezzo Dame Felicity Palmer (b.1944) has enjoyed a remarkable long career, but she is incapable of singing the demanding role of Klytämnestra. Gergiev's surely is not of the standard of Böhm, Sawallisch or Solti to mention only the finest. This recording was edited from three performances, January `11, 12 and 14, 2010. We can assume what we hear are the finest takes from the performances: I surely would not like to hear any of the others. This is a handsome production that includes a 68-page booklet with photos and the complete libretto. Skip this one, except as an oddity - an Elektra gone wrong.


This 31-disk set contains twelve complete operas in live performances featuring Birgit NIlsson. Of particular interest is this Elektra, which is probably the best of her available Elektras. It was a performance by the Vienna State Opera given in Montreal September 18, 1967. Also featured are Leonie Rysnek and Regina Resnik. Picture Video and audio are first-rate. This is a fabulous performance.


STRAUSS: Elektra
Birgit Nilsson (Elektra); Leonie Rysanek (Chrysothemis); Mignon Dunn (Klytämnestra); Donald McIntyre (Orest); Robert Nagy (Aegisth);Metropolitan Opera Orch/James Levine, cond. (telecast of February 16, 1980).
DGG DVD VIDEO 000747509 TT: 110 min. + 51 min. extra

This Elektra is, for various reasons, disappointing. The Met performance was a Saturday broadcast matinee filmed at the same time, February 16, 1980. Of major interest here is participation of Birgit Nilsson and Leonie Rysanek, both specialists in their roles as the two very different sisters. Rysanek is superb and it is good to have video documentation of one of her great performances, but Nilsson was not at her best. On occasion her pitch is suspect, her power not at its usual intense level—after all, she had been singing the big Wagner and Strauss roles for a quarter-century. Dramatically she is superb, brilliantly conveying Elektra's confused sexuality related both to her brother, Orest, and her sister, Chrysothemis. Mignon Dunn, a mainstay of the Met roster for lower dramatic soprano roles, is convincing as Klytämnestra, Donald McIntyre a rather insecure Orest. The Met Orchestra plays magnificently well under James Levine's assured direction. The stereo sound quality is disappointing, not equal to the best of Met videos. Voices sometimes are too distant, orchestral sound surprisingly unresonant for the venue. This performance originally was issued on Pioneer Classics; now it is on DG which has better video and sound, but it cannot help the performance. The DG issue also includes a considerable bonus, Nilsson singing Isolde's Narrative and Curse and a Swedish folk song, from a Met telecast of 1996 marking the 25th year of James Levine's leadership of the Met (REVIEW). Also included are two audio-only interviews with Nilsson.

STRAUSS: Elektra
Leonie Rysanek (Elektra); Catarina Ligendza (Chysothemis); Astrid Varnay (Klytämnestra); Hans Beirer (Aegisth); Districh Fischer-Dieskau (Orestes); Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Karl Böhm, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO B0005982-09 TT: 116 min + 92 min documentary

This Elektra was Karl Böhm's final project. The soundtrack was recorded in the spring of 1981; the conductor died in August of that year just before his 87th birthday. It was his wish that Rysanek sing the title role, the first time she had done this although opera lovers have cherished her Chrysothemis and, later, her Klytämestra. Although towards the end of her career, Rysanek is in superb voice, and it's fascinating to hear her in this role. Ligendza is far from an ideal Chrysothemis, Varnay an appropriately cackling Queen often singing with an approximation of the notes. Fischer-Dieskau brings great nobility to the role of Orest. Böhm's reading is slower than his 1960 DGG recording, leisurely compared with Reiner, Solti, or Mitropoulos, but the sense of occasion is here and the VPO plays magnificently for him. Götz Friedrich directed this production, with set design by Josef Svoboda and costumes by Pet Halmen. The set is appropriately bleak and often it is raining. This concept works, and has been effectively filmed by Rudolf Blahacek. The sound is fine, although the 5.l surround has been achieved via Ambient Sound Technology. Several live performances of Elektra conducted by Böhm are currently available (see ELEKTRA); the finest is the 1965 Vienna performance with Nilsson, Rysanek and Regina Resnek. A track-by-track synopsis is included, with subtitles only in English. The second DVD contains a fascinating 90-minute documentary by Norbert Beilharz on Böhm and his long association with the opera, with many clips from recording sessions which took place in Vienna's Musikverein (the music) and a huge locomotive factory in Vienna (the video); lyp-sync is remarkably accomplished. A superb release!

STRAUSS: Elektra
Eva Marton (Elektra); Cheryl Studer (Chrysothemis); Brigitte Fassbaender (Klytämnestra); Franz Grundheber (Orest); James King (Aegisth); Vienna State Opera Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT ID 9303RADV Dolby digital 5.1 surround, stereo TT: 108 min.

Abbado's Elektra is a live Vienna State Opera performance of 1989. Musically it is quite strong. Eva Marton, a blockbuster soprano who specializes in the big Strauss roles, is in relatively good vocal condition. Subtelty isn't part of her singing, but she manages the notes respectably and is quite dramatic interpretively. Cheryl Studer negotiates Chrysothemis effectively, Brigitte Fassbaender is an imperious Queen, Franz Grundheber is more effective visually than vocally as Orest. James King, at the twilight of his distinguished career when he was the Emperor in numerous performances of Die Frau ohne Schatten, is just fine as the doomed Aegisth. Claudio Abbado turns out to be a superb Straussian and, of course, the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is an old hand in this repertory. The production, by Herbert Graf, with Reto Nickler as stage manager and lighting by Robert Stangl, is one that I do not wish to experience again. For whatever reason, there are some ropes hanging from the ceiling at stage right; their significance is unclear, but the singers are required to hang onto them, twist them and otherwise deal with them throughout the performance. Principal women characters all wear white chalk makeup and caps that make them look bald. Appropriately, the general setting is dark, but usually so dark it's hard to see what's going on. Elektra seems to be wearing some kind of tattered military uniform. Chrysathemis's red inner blouse is a welcome spot of color on this foreboding scene. Closeups of the singers in their clown makeup—and there are many—are not flattering. Extensive curtain calls are included and, appropriately, there are boos for the non-musical participants in this ill-advised concept of Strauss's powerful opera. It's difficult to understand why this production was filmed. Sonically this DVD is reasonably effective, but this DVD for reasons stated above hardly represents the power and grandeur of Strauss's masterpiece.

STRAUSS: Elektra
Eva Johannsson (Elektra); Marjana Lipovsek (Klytämnestra); Melanie Diener (Chrysothemis); Rudolf Schlasching (Aegisth); Alfred Muff (Orest); Zürich Opera Chorus and Orch/Christoph von Dohnányi, cond.

This Zurich production of Elektra is fascinating in many ways. Director Martin Kusej and designer Rolf Glittenberg give their interpretation of Hofmannsthal's tragedy. Elektra is "a young punk with clumpy shoes, jogging trousers and a hooded jumper." The serving maidens wear short skirts and skimpy aprons, characters seem constantly to be running across the stage in various states of undress and provocative action. At the time of Elektra's triumphant final dance (very understated by the protagonist), we see a Brazilian cabaret scene and dancers with gaudy costumes. After the premiere at the Zurich Opera House December 13, 2003, critics wrote of this production, "sick, but superb," and "madness without end." Christoph von Dohnányi conducts with total authority, and the cast is uniformly strong. Eva Johannsson negotiates the title role with ease; doubtless we will be hearing much more from her. Melanie Diener, one of the newest singers on the Strauss horizon, shows she has what it takes. Marjana Lipovsek is totally neurotic as Klytämnestra and, unfortunately, is costumed in comic fashion; her murder scene doesn't amount to much, and Rudolf Schasching is a mincing, weakling Aegisth. Sound quality is superb, but Felix Breisach's video direction has far too many super closeups. This is an intriguing new look at Strauss's masterpiece—but one I probably will not watch again..

STRAUSS: Elektra
Linda Watson (Elektra); Jane Henschel (Klytämnestra); Manuela Uhl (Chrysothgemis); René Kollo (Aegisth); Albert Dohmen (Orest); Vienna Philharmonia Chor/ Munich Philharmonic Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.

This production of Elektra by Herbert Wernicke was first given in October 1992 at the Bavarian State Opera; this revival was in January/February 2010. In many ways, it is striking concept of Strauss's masterpiece, with a bare set and a huge black moving panel that when moved lets us see brilliant expanses of blood red. Elektra wears a dark gown, Chrysothemis wears white, Klytämnestra wears red, Orest has a rumpled business suit and Aegisth wears a white dinner jacket. For the most part, singers face the audience and do not interact with each other. Throughout most of the opera, Elektra carries an axe, and it is a stunning moment when she swings it twice as her mother is killed. However, the mood is quickly broken when she has an electric lantern to light the way for Aegisth. At the end of the opera, Elektra doesn't do a dance of triumph as Strauss wanted; she turns her back to the audience and kills herself with the axe (!). There is no explanation for these arbitrary decisions by director Wernicke. Linda Watson was to make her debut as Elektra with the Vienna State Opera, but on eight week's notice appeared in this production when the scheduled soprano cancelled. Watson is outstanding vocally, as is Jane Henschel as the Queen. This cannot be said of German soprano Manuela Uhl, who doesn't have the power and stability the role of Chrysothemis demands. Uhl (b. 1971) has been a favorite in German opera houses in a wide variety of roles that range from Handel and Strauss to contemporary opera. She has been acclaimed by some for her Salome (you can see a snippet of it on YouTube). Albert Dohmen is a strong Orest, and the tattered voice of veteran René Kollo is appropriate for Aegisth. The orchestra under Christian Thielemann's powerful direction, is superb. Video and audio are first-rate. This is an intriguing view of Elektra, but I imagine most viewers would prefer a more standard production. This modern production makes much more sense than the Zurich version mentioned above.

STRAUSS: Elektra
Iréne Theorin (Elektra); Eva-Maria Westbrock (Chrysothemis); Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra); René Pape (Orestes); Robert Gambill (Aegisth); Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orch./Daniele Gatti, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIC 101559 TT: 109 min.

This is a stunning, effective modern treatment of Strauss's masterpiece. Nikolaus Lernhoff's direction is to the point, and the modern costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Fischer seem appropriate; Designed by Raimund Bauer, the set is stark and simple.Iréne Theorin is a powerful Elektra, with Eva-Maria Westbrock in good form. Waldtraud Meier,. dressed in purple with a boa, a is an outrageous, vicious queen who at the conclusion is seen hanging upside-down.This modern treatment of an operatic masterpiece is not an insult to the viewer, which cannot be said of many recent operatic disasters. Video and audio are excellent on this new release, a different compelling approach to the opera.

STRAUSS: Elektra
Ingela Brimberg (Elektra). Ingrid Tobiasson (Klytzuamnestra). Susanna Levonen (Chrysothemis). Magnus Kyhle (Aegisth). Thomas Lander (Orest). Norrlandsoperan's Orchestra / Rumon Gamba, cond.
C MAJOR DVD TT: 108 min.

Strauss's magnificent opera Elektra is a towering masterpiece, but one that seems to tempt producers and stage directors to feel it must be updated or re-interpreted. For example, the recent Patrice Chereau production featured at the Met this season (and magnificently sung) has a final scene in which Elektra does not dance to death as the composer specified, but instead the stage is filled with members of the ballet corps. A stupid concept unfortunately embraced by Met officials. That seems quite tame compared with this production by the Norrlandsoperan. This company has a history of flamboyant productions and this is no exception. It was produced by La Fura Dels Baus and directed by Carlos Padrissa. I respect this company; they presented a remarkable updated version of Wagner's Ring at Valencia conducted by Zubin Mehta, reviewed on this site. However, this Elektra is a confusing display of characterization. The performance was recorded live at Umestan Företagspark, Umea, Sweden, August 19 and 21, 2014, given in a huge parking lot . One wonders where the audience was—out in the street around the parking lot? There are huge puppets/statues, sometimes with singes on them. Sometimes singers are on moving crane chairs. Because of the darkness of the stage it usually is difficult to see what is going on. Often there are fireworks explosions, and the stage area usually has several raging fires; these are very easy to see, as the stage area is always dark. However, it is lighted enough for us to see cascading waves of blood. There always is a lot of action on the stage, most of which seems meaningless., and a huge supporting cast, many carrying flaming torches. Costumes, designed by Clara Sulla, are equally weird: Klytämnestra wears only a robe over her shoulders, and throughout the opera we see much more of her than anyone would wish to. Elektra appears to have an unending umbilical cord hanging from her back. The performance is second-rate at best, with a cast surely not up to Strauss's demanding score. I am surprised conductor Rumon Gamba, for whom I have the greatest respect, would let himself be involved. Audio is equally disappointing. Only get this ill-advised Elektra as a curiosity.

STRAUSS: Elektra
Hildegard Behrens (Elektra); Deborah Voight (Chrysothemnis); Brigitte Fassbaender (Klytämnestra); James King (; James King (Aegisth); Donald McIntyre (Orest). Metropolitan Opera Orch/James Levine, cond.
DECCA 1135791355 (21 DISKS)

Here is something very special. This Elektra was fimed in January 1994, a spectacular performance in every way with Hildegard Behrens in top form, Deborah Vloight in one of her finest roles, far removed from her vocal decline of recent years. Brigitte Fassbaender is also superb, and the remaining cast could not be bettered. Behrens acts magnificently, and her final dance is outstanding. This performance is far superior to the other Met DVD (with Nilsson and Rysanek), and it has the advantage of stereo sound that beautifully captures the performance, along with clear video. This is one of the preferred DVDs of Elektra. Unfortunately, it is only availablre in the Decca release of the Met's huge 21 DVD set commemorating the first four decades of James Levine's leadership of the Met. But this set should be in every opera lover's collection, as it also contains Lulu, The Marriage of Figaro, Wozzeck, The Ghosts of Versailles, Il Trittico, The Bartered Bride, Der Rosenkavalier, Don Carlo, and Rise amd Fall of the City of Mahagonny, as well as In Concert at the Met. It's a fabulous set—don't miss it!!.

STRAUSS: Elektra
Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra). Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra). Adrianne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis). Mikhail Petrenko (Orest). Tom Randle (Ageisth). Gulbenkian Chorus. Orchestra of Paris/Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.
BEL AIR CLASSICS DVD TT: 110 min. + 23 min. bonus


This is a stunning, effective modern treatment of Strauss's masterpiece. Nikolaus Lernhoff's direction is to the point, and the modern costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Fischer seem appropriate; Designed by Raimund Bauer, the set is stark and simple.Iréne Theorin is a powerful Elektra, with Eva-Maria Westbrock in good form. Waldtraud Meier,. dressed in purple with a boa, a is an outrageous, vicious queen who at the conclusion is seen hanging upside-down

This production of Elektra is exceptional. It was staged by Patrice Chereau , his last major production before his death in October 2013. Chereau's imaginative approach to opera was displayed in many acclaimed productions over the years including the Ring at Bayreuth in 1976. This DVD has a bonus of Chereau discussing his view of Elektra, which is mos convincing. Set designer Richard Peduzzi gives us a dark, gloomy scene, effectively lit by Dominique Bryuguiere. The opera opens without music as the servants are working in the courtyard. Chereau was fortunate to have Evelyn Herlitzius in the title role, and one wonders how much of her highly theatrical interpretation of the role was influenced by him. Surely the final triumphal dance has never been as exciting as it is here, Herlitzius' trim figure and athletic prowess enable us to perform a demonic final dance that I'm sure would have delighted Strauss.

Herlitzius' voice is powerful enough although without the intensity and thrust of Nilsson, or going back several decades, Rose Pauly. Her acting is extraordinarily expressive in conveying the tormented daughter. Adriana Pieczonka is a strong Chrysothemis, although not as effective as Rysanek or Deborah Voight. The amazing Waltraud Meier gives us a glamorous Klytämnestra far removed from the grotesque creature on other productions and she, also, is a superb actress. For whatever reason, at the end of the confrontation scene as the queen is informed of the supposed death of Orest, she does not laugh, as written in the score. Odd. The two screams as she is being murdered are appropriately frightening— I wonder if she actually did them? Often these are performed off stage by someone else. Mikhail Petrenko is a strong Orest, also a fine actor particularly as he caresses Elektra's forehead during the recognition scene.Video is excellent although I wish the camera had focused more on Elekra in her final dance rather than the reactions of others. This is It is a deluxe presentaton, very handsome on the shelf, a major addition to the Elektra DVD library..

nces of Salome are available. Many can be found on PREMIERE OPERA Approach with caution—many of them are updated productions that insult both the composer and the viewer, and video/audio quality often is poor. But there are many gems including a remarkable 1980 Tokyo performance by the Vienna State Opera conductred by Heinrich Hollreiser on tour in Japan in 1980. Video is awful, audio OK, there are subtitles in Japanese and there are no tracks—but this is apparetly the only video extant of Rysanek in this role.

R.E.B. (June, 2012)