Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

R. STRAUSS: Elektra

spacer Charbonnet, Denoke, Palmer; Storey, Goerne; Chorus and Orchestra of the London Symphony, Gergiev. Libretto. LSO 0701 (2)


Taken from live traversals in January 2010, this set, in fine sound, documents Valery Gergiev’s London Symphony Orchestra performances of Elektra. The conducting is more restrained than one might have expected, though of course some spectacular orchestral fortes can be heard, and the LSO players show their mettle. But it doesn’t add up to a cogent, complete interpretation. Heavy Russian accents launch the performance: Gergiev largely deployed Mariinsky singers in an idiom that, to judge from this recording and the Mariinsky Parsifal, they are as yet hearing through a glass, darkly. Best of the lot by far is mezzo Ekaterina Sergeeva (Second Maid/Trainbearer).

From the linguistic point of view, it’s a relief to reach Elektra’s monologue; Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet has been specializing in German roles the past few seasons and really digs into Hofmannsthal’s text for all its worth (which is a lot). The American soprano — who replaced Eva Johansson at a late stage for this project — is an intense, committed interpreter; her Isolde in Dallas last season may be the best acted of my experience. But the voice itself lacks sensuous appeal, getting edgy and shrill quickly and often. Every high and/or sustained note is an adventure, and rarely does tone quality or distinct pitch emerge unscathed. She can’t seem to float when the score requires or implies it (“Bist doch selber eine Göttin” and in the recognition scene). I’d welcome the opportunity to see Charbonnet enact Elektra; but with other more vocally satisfactory Elektras easily available on various recordings, it’s hard to imagine a consumer who would choose to listen to Charbonnet sing the music as she does here, without the visuals.

Angela Denoke’s Chrysothemis initially sounds attractive, but though there is still some glow in the tone when it is not pressured, the German soprano’s voice has seen hard use and sounds like it. Again, Denoke registers as a knowing, experienced interpreter, but her tone curdles and spreads at climaxes. Bearing in mind that the engineers had three evenings from which to choose, the sisters’ lapses from grace are just too frequent to make this set a contender.

Thank heaven for the veteran Klytämnestra, Felicity Palmer: at sixty-five, she is trenchant but solid and healthy of voice, as well as alert to every expressive nuance of text and dynamics. Palmer and the fine orchestral solo work are the best reasons to sample this release. Matthias Goerne’s refined Orest, if rather muffled on bottom notes, shapes his lines with artistry; Ian Storey’s luster-free competence works for Aegisth. spacer


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