Covent Garden: Elektra, 9th October 2013

Royal Opera House 9th October 2013

Elektra  by Richard Strauss fromelektra2PRODUCTION-IMAGE-C-BARDA a one act play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Conducted by: Christopher willis

Christine Goerke: Elektra

Adrianne Pieczonka: Chrysothemis

Iain Paterson: Oreste

John Daszak: Agisth

Michaela Schuster: Klytamnestra



There are times in live theatre when any performance completely overwhelms the audience and completely fulfills the promise of the work. This production of Elektra and these performances are such…and in being so they are as rare as hen’s teeth; a rare bird indeed in the modern opera house.

The production is new to me as this is not a work I often seek out. Tragically Greek it is full of blood and deeply disturbing on many levels.

I once saw Eva Marton memorably sing the role in the 1990’s in the ROH. I’ve seen it on other occasions. It is a bleak work by any standards. It also requires singers of the highest calibre – not merely large voices but also a large range for the mood swings within this relatively short drama are pretty demanding. The orchestra, as with all richard Strauss is at time overpowering and in this work particularly dark and noisy and troubled.

The singers therefore have to be able to deliver lyrical and high register passages over the huge force of the orchestra in full pelt. There are two really quite extraordinary performances. First the american soprano Christine Goerke sang the title role. It is the largest part by far in the opera and it is enormously demanding. At the explosive end one felt she could just do it all again, she was singing so well within her range what a voice – full of meaning, full of power yet searingly lyrical at times. This was an authoritative I’d even definitive performance of Elektra. Then we also had the Canadian Adrianne Pieczonka singing Chrysothemis. Chryso means gold in Greek and it was gold…such a wonderful high register than soared over the entire cast at the end like a great bird in full flight. I’ve never heard Elektra’s sister better sung or more lyrically Straussian  in performance.  Since this opera is short and intense and forte in its disturbing dissonances, the tendency is to get Wagnerian voices to sing these roles. Here we had big voices with a lyrical artistry that really added such a depth to the characters and made it a compelling drama and an enthralling evening.  At times it felt like I was really hearing this as a new work I’d never heard before.

On a sadder note my dear friend Ian Loveless who died a few days earlier should have been with me – he missed a great night and I know he would have loved to hear this. I hope in my heart he was with us there in spirit – smiling at this wonderful singing.

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