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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Elektra

PHILADELPHIA
Charles Dutoit & The Philadelphia Orchestra
5/10/12

The Philadelphia Orchestra has a proud tradition of operas in concert. Leopold Stokowski gave the U.S. premieres of the un-Rimskied Boris Godunov (1929) and of Wozzeck (1931). The tradition, revived in the Sawallisch era (1993–2003), has largely lapsed ever since. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who becomes music director this fall, has stated his intention to include operas in his programming, though none are announced for next season. In this context, it was a pleasure to hear Richard Strauss's ever-invigorating Elektra on May 10, the first of two performances to honor outgoing chief conductor/artistic adviser Charles Dutoit, who has been at the helm for the past four years. This was the Orchestra's first performance of the complete work.

Dutoit has led some dubious Mahler hereabouts and boasts no close association with Strauss's music; but what seemed a kind of indulgence turned out very exciting indeed. Providing a cogent reading of both the great confrontations and the overall dramatic arc, Dutoit achieved brutality and lyricism in the needed balance, with only rare moments of overpowering the singers. The players were in phenomenal form, with soaring string sound, a percussive field day and the kind of startling brass precision htat has been missing from nearby Ring cycles of late.

Berlin-based Danish soprano Eva Johansson has pursued a solid three-decade career (including Met Evas in 1998). She initially sounded like the kind of good "B list" international singer who ascends to Elektra and the Dyer's Wife when there's not much left to lose; her timbre lacks personality and coloristic range, and she sometimes favors expanding out from vibrato-less laser attacks, like late-career Jones or Silja. But after performances in several major theaters, Johansson certainly has the measure of the fiendish role; she paced herself cannily, never turned shrill or wobbly and at times produced attractive, dynamically responsive bright tone. She worked well with Melanie Diener's Chysothemis; they were paired in Rome's Elektra this fall. Diener showed more memorable and aristocratic phrasing, and some of her recent vocal distress seems in abatement; but the character's key high phrases lacked the freedom to which Rysanek, Voigt and Mattila have accustomed us. 

Except for two or three camped-up moments, Jane Henschel's Klytämnestra sang and declaimed with admirable firmness and beauty. Ain Anger (Orest) completed the Atreides component with a rich, powerful bass that — coupled with arresting good looks and stage presence — made one wonder why American audiences don't hear more of this fine Estonian singer, who made his New York Philharmonic debut a decade ago. Siegfried Jerusalem, looking and sounding hale and fit at seventy-two, made luxury casting as Aegisth. Small parts were all strongly taken; outstanding vocalists included Maria Zifchak and Priti Gandhi (Third and Fourth Maids), Allison Sanders (Trainbearer), John Easterlin and Brandon Cedel (Servants). Surtitles frequently got stuck and then skipped ahead, missing key textual points; let's hope with more frequent concert operas their operation will smoothen out. spacer 

DAVID SHENGOLD

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