Review: The Metropolitan Opera Revives Its Compelling ‘Elektra,’ And Comes Very Close to Success
By Mark McLaren, Editor in Chief, March 1, 2018
The House of Atreus fell apart again tonight, as the Metropolitan Opera revived its crisp Patrice Chéreau production of Elektra with the American soprano (New York’s own to be specific) Christine Goerke making an anticipated New York debut as the tortured title character.
The production (set by Richard Peduzzi and costumes by Caroline de Vivaise), which debuted at the Met 2016, is smart – a cool, grey, contemporary palette on which to throw some pretty fabulous family drama.
Now this is no ordinary family and these are no ordinary problems. In the right hands the delicious relationships and tensions, against this cool palette, can soar. The 2016 cast, lead by Nina Stemme, played the night with stunning precision, particularly the magnificent Waltraud Meier in a cinematically laser-sharp reading of Klytåmnestra and Ms. Stemme, who lead the cast in a simmering exploration of the best and the very worst of family life.
Ms. Goerke, who sang Elektra with the Boston Symphony at Carnegie in 2015 to solid reviews, takes her cast in a different direction, painting her production with bigger strokes. And while much of the night satisfies, and while the house jumped to its feet at the curtain, the performance didn’t match the cinematic sizzler that I remember.
Don’t you hate it when people rave about an original production?
In many aspects, tonight was finely performed. Making her Metropolitan Opera debut, German mezzo Michaela Schuster brings clean fraught to her Klytåmnestra. With a rich, comfortable voice, she nicely delineates her alternating desire and apprehension to seek solace from the daughter in whom she has no trust. Schuster is captivating.
Speaking of fine, the South African soprano Elsa van den Heever (reviewed here in Maria Stuarda) is riveting as Chrysothemis. Her soprano is bright and brilliant, and her Chrysothemis, a woman who longs for a normal life amidst murder, captivity and a whole lot of crazy, is wrenching.
These two, with Ms. Goerke, round out the trio that sit smack in the middle this drama. Goerke (who sings Brünnhilde in next season’s Ring at the Met) has chosen to play to the back rows.
While there is solid scene work in her performance tonight and some nice moments of simplicity, nuance is a bit rare. Revival stage director Peter McClintock has done Goerke a disservice in not finding these moments for his star. They are both so close. Really close. But transitions are abrupt – not those of the character, but those of the actor. As Goerke’s Elektra grasps her mother’s knees, her waist, and her person, and despite Schuster’s fine work, the scene plays as stage directions and not the arc of need, love, hatred and revulsion that I think was sought. An arc that could have blown the scene’s culmination out of the water.
Oddly, at these bold moments, Goerke has a hard time bringing her body on the journey. Her Elektra spends plenty of time on the ground, a solid choice as the character lives on the edge of her society and her safe place, like the palace dogs that are now colleagues, is low and curled. But somehow her physicality lacks impetus. Again, it is so close. But we see this gesture too many times for it not to speak cleanly, and Goerke fails to take similar moments across the finish line.
I have to note that there is also a strange lesbian/incest moment late in the game that, if it didn’t get scrapped, needed to be set up. The scene, otherwise, works brilliantly and I think I understand the intent. But if this kind of moment is going to work, Elektra’s hugely complex relationships with Klytåmnestra and Orest have to, also, be better fleshed.
Goerke has a solid dramatic soprano through most of her range. It’s juicy rich and very well produced. Her diction is great. Tuning is dead on. But in her 2015 Elektra, the top was tight. This smart artist has worked successfully on her placement at these moments. But the top remains thin.
The Met announced last week that conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin begins his music director position at the Met with the 2018/2019 season, two years ahead of schedule. And this is good news for everyone at the house – in front of and behind the curtain. Nézet-Séguin accompanies effortlessly, a huge asset, and the Met orchestra consumes Elektra’s orchestral banquet beautifully.
Mikhail Petrenko sings Orest smartly and his acting lines up nicely with this production. In an opening scene that is engaging, Susan Neves, Tichina Vaughn, Maya Lahyani, Andrea Hill, Kelly Cae Hogan and in a debut Lisa Gwyn Daltirus all produce.
If you think your family has problems, take in Elektra at the Met, playing through March 23.
Elektra, by Richard Strauss, plays the Metropolitan Opera through March 23rd in a production by Patrice Chéreau, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with set design by Richard Peduzzi, costume design by Caroline de Vivaise, lighting design by Dominique Bruguirère, revival stage direction by Peter McClintock and with Christine Goerke, Michaela Schuster, Elza van den Heever, Mikhail Petrenko, Kevin Short, Scott Scully, James Courtney, Susan Neves, Tichina Vaughn, Maya Lahyani, Andrea hill, Kelly Cae Hogan and Lisa Gwyn Daltirus.
Cover photo: Christine Goerke and Elza van den Heever in Met Opera’s production of ‘Elektra;’ photo: Karen Almond/Metropolitan Opera.