[Met Performance] CID:208330
New production
Elektra {31} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/28/1966.


Metropolitan Opera House
October 28, 1966
New production

R. Strauss-Hofmannsthal

Elektra.................Birgit Nilsson
Chrysothemis............Leonie Rysanek
Klytämnestra............Regina Resnik
Orest...................William Dooley
Aegisth.................Robert Nagy
Overseer................Carlotta Ordassy
Serving Woman...........Shirley Love
Serving Woman...........Joann Grillo
Serving Woman...........Nancy Williams
Serving Woman...........Lilian Sukis
Serving Woman...........Mary Ellen Pracht
Confidant...............Elinor Harper
Trainbearer.............Mary Fercana
Young Servant...........Charles Anthony
Old Servant.............Edward Ghazal
Guardian................Gerhard Pechner

Conductor...............Thomas Schippers

Production..............Herbert Graf
Designer................Rudolf Heinrich

Elektra received five performances this season.

Review of Miles Kastendieck in World Journal Tribune


Birgit Nilsson Wins Bravos

As the wonder of the singing world, Birgit Nilsson gave the performance of her career as Elektra at the Metropolitan last night. She had been remarkable as Salome, but she is incredible as Elektra. Her performance might have been greater had she been allowed to move about the stage freely. The theatrical set devised for Rudolf Heinrich has enough booby traps to make even a formidable trouper like Miss Nilsson cautious. How she and Leonie Rysanek negotiated the various stage levels without accident could be a story in itself.

The new production presents various problems if not headaches. Heinrich has gone abstract and symbolic for this most realistic of operas so that his whole approach becomes questionable. Whatever he intended to convey pictorially through the broken blocks of earth or of lava strewn over the stage becomes treacherous for performers moving wildly or going as mad as the intensity of this opera demands.

Letting so much airiness into a setting that should probably be claustrophobic, if symbolism must enter the picture, also played havoc with the voices. Such considerations inhibited the performance as a whole. The curous assortment of costumes and Miss Nilsson's beauty-parlor appearance added further incumbrances. How fortunate it was that the cast had such vocal strength and Thomas Schippers such conductoral control to draw attention away from the visual aspect.

This opera of violent emotions called for even more dramatic movement than Herbert Graf had designed for stage action. A static quality crept into the performance even though he devised certain subtleties like Klytaemnestra's shedding her outer garments. The gimmick of spotlighting the clouds overhead created more of an artificial effect than enhancing the mood of the moment. This Strauss score is so powerful that it fares better without such theatrical touches.

Thus the singers made the performance. Always prodigial of voice, Miss Nilsson poured out an extraordinary wealth of pure sound that electrified the audience. With all her powerful singing in this most demanding of roles, she nevertheless achieved the acme of performance during Elektra's recognition of her brother Orestes, sung commendably by William Dooley.

Miss Rysanek sang well but too loudly as Chrysothemis. For so gentle a character, she also acted too violently. Together with Regina Resnik as Klytaemnestra, she nevertheless brought the performance distinction.

An engrossed audience hardly moved when the curtain fell after an hour and forty minutes of intensified experience. Then it cheered and cheered. Miss Nilssn appeared exhausted, an unusual circumstance for her, but then she had just sung the most strenuous of soprano roles. Miss Resnik had her moment, too.

Review of Peter G. Davis in High Fidelity/Musical America

Having recovered sufficiently from the shock of mounting four new productions in the [first] two weeks of the season, the Met presented a new "Elektra" of mixed virtues towards the end of the month. Rudolf Heinrich has conceived a threatening set which magnificently suggests the crumbling ruins of a once strong and proud family. Fanning down from upstage along the courtyard floor are four immense, striated, siliceous stone slabs. These monoliths are mirrored by four matching boulders suspended from the ceiling and sweeping up to the proscenium. Through decaying holes and gouges in the palace wall one can spy such activities as the wild procession of animals being led to sacrifice and, later on, the murder of Aegisthus. It is in perfect contrast to Heinrich's splendid "Salome" designs, which also exude an unholy decadence. But Salome's sickly, perfumed decomposition is born of a lassitudinous sensual surfeit; Elektra's deterioration on the other hand, stems from a violent strength generated by sensual frustration. It's all summed up beautifully in Heinrich's brooding, rotten mausoleum.

Almost everyone was pleasantly surprised by Birgit Nilsson's unexpectedly "right" Salome two years ago, and even greater things were expected from her Elektra. Certainly the role has rarely been accorded such a glorious vocal performance; when it comes to staying power and ability to ride out the mightiest Straussian orchestral tides, Nilsson clears the floor of all competition. Still, it was a curiously uninvolving hour and three quarters - partly due, I think, to the restrained detachment of Miss Nilsson s acting as well as to the unrelieved sunny brilliance of her voice (which, as it turns out, is more at home with the technicolored Salome than the dark, glowering Elektra). From watching this artist grow in a part over past years, one can predict that something more positive will eventually develop, but right now it's very chilly.

Regina Resnik plays Klytmnestra as an extraordinarily beautiful, proud and regal figure tottering on the brink of hysteria -a far cry from the grotesque, bloated hag presented by most mezzos. The dignity with which Miss Resnik clothes the role increases the queen's stature immeasurably and adds poignancy to the fleeting impulses of maternal warmth and her flinches of terror as Elektra details the horrible death in store. Furthermore, Miss Resnik is content to sing the music, and very beautifully at that, letting Strauss' graphic prosody tell its own tale. A very great performance.

Chrysothemis found Leonie Rysanek in excellent vocal shape, and she threw herself into the part with her usual abandon. I can't help thinking that she has miscalculated the dramatic effect somewhat: far from being the modest and retiring sister suggested by Hofmannsthal, this Chrysothemis could clearly have straight-armed Elektra, marched out the door, and had the first farmer's son that came along.

William Dooley was too light-voiced to make a proper effect as Orestes, but Robert Nagy sketched a nasty and petulant Aegisthus. Except for Carlotta Ordassy's Overseer, the remaining small parts, and in particular the five serving maids, were very poorly taken, with only approximations of the vocal writing. The orchestra again played superlatively, but although Thomas Schippers deftly accompanied the conversational sections and coaxed some lovely textural nuances from the score; the big lyrical moments were merely batted out, very loudly. If Herbert Graf's staging offered little that was new, its very simplicity quietly and effectively underlined this stark drama.

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