Saturday, 8 November 2008

Elektra at the Royal Opera House

I managed to land a ticket for the General Rehearsal for this run of Strauss' one act masterpiece (the run proper began an hour and a half ago), although whether anyone should really be watching, let alone performing Grade A self-immolatingly romantic psychodrama like this before lunch on a weekday is a moot point. I can point you in its direction whole-heartedly: even if this was an underpowered, rehearsal-tethered outing of the opera it was pretty dangerous. Susan Bullock promises to sing the title role out of the ball park and she's joined with a first-class Klytemnestra in Jane Henschel, and Johan Reuter as Orestes, obviously the knight-in-shining armour du jour at Covent Garden. Anne Schwanewilms will never quite dislodge the experience of seeing Karita Mattila as Chrysothemis in this house from my mind but - again, even if she was only operating at 70% - her singing is pretty glorious. Nice to see Alfie Boe, slumming it with other regular opera stars. I liked his contribution as I did those of Miriam Murphy and the short-strawed Eri Nakamura, required to spend most of the opera lying bloodied on the stage.

If I've got one reservation with the piece, it's the late appearance of Aegisthus who has to be charmed into the slaughter that Orestes has already started. It threatens to hold the drama up, as much in the score as on the stage, although I feel that director Charles Edwards manages it effectively. His fixed-set production is set loosely in the 1930s. I'm always a little wary of Weimar to Third Reich period affectation in productions whose associations have a tendency to swamp any other intentions of the actual pieces adopting them. However, Edwards manages to be sufficiently indeterminate and discreet in his use of symbols, costuming and set, as well as using Sophoclean elements, to reposition the story at the top of the experience.

This performance was a dress rehearsal, which comes with all the attendant caveats about performances being undercooked. Where that's not applicable to the hellfire blazing on stage on Tuesday, things were different in the pit. However, my experience of the music at Covent Garden is one which is notable for its consistency and I'm sure that the orchestra will be galvanised by the first night. If Mark Elder's exhausted curtain call is anything to go by the first night will be triumphant.

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