[Met Performance] CID:260480
Elektra {60} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/12/1980.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 12, 1980


ELEKTRA {60}
R. Strauss-Hofmannsthal

Elektra.................Birgit Nilsson
Chrysothemis............Leonie Rysanek
Klytämnestra............Mignon Dunn
Orest...................Donald McIntyre
Aegisth.................Robert Nagy
Overseer................Elizabeth Coss
Serving Woman...........Batyah Godfrey Ben-David
Serving Woman...........Shirley Love
Serving Woman...........Ariel Bybee
Serving Woman...........Loretta Di Franco
Serving Woman...........Alma Jean Smith
Confidant...............Constance Webber
Trainbearer.............Elizabeth Anguish
Young Servant...........Charles Anthony
Old Servant.............Talmage Harper
Guardian................John Cheek

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Herbert Graf
Stage Director..........Paul Mills
Designer................Rudolf Heinrich
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Review of Patrick J. Smith in Opera (UK)

Birgit Nilsson's four performances of "Elektra - her first appearances in opera at the Metropolitan Opera since 1975 and her tax difficulties - had been sold out since last autumn, and the frenzied acclamations after the performance I heard on February 12 went on far into the night. It was a deserving tribute to a great artist, and I wish I could have more wholeheartedly shared the enthusiasm. Nilsson remains a considerable singer and stage presence, and if the voice is now smaller, whiter and more apt to stray from pitch, she brings to Electra a constant attention to word and drama. Yet, finally, it is a distanced reading of that tortured role, a series of calculations rather than a matter of spontaneity. Her Electra is a regal, aloof matron and not a creature possessed, and if the sarcasm and banked fires are made evident, one is never aware of the monomania that inevitably results in exhaustion and death.

The cast surrounding her was a strong one, but one not subject to anything but the most cursory directorial control (Paul Mills was listed as producer). Leonie Rysanek's familiar, wildly anguished virgin (she has an amazing amount of voice left in her throat) was well contrasted with Mignon Dunn's underplayed Clytemnestra; although Miss Dunn sounded in far more steady vocal shape than she did earlier in the season as Ortrud, she sang the role rather than emoted it. James Levine opted for a broad, lyrical reading of the score, at its best in moments like the oily depiction of Clytemnestra at her entrance. Yet the reading came perilously close, in places, to slackness, particularly just before and during the recognition of Orestes. I never felt an intensity or the cumulative power of the score.

A share of the evening's dissipation of punch must be credited (or debited) to the fact that it was a run-through for a television taping. and thus, as the programme delicately put it, "light levels have been adjusted." Adjusted indeed - put up to full candlepower would be more accurate, so that the gloom and mystery that are innate were dispelled, so that the deficiencies of Rudolf Heinrich's set were painstakingly revealed as they never should be, and so that the evocative projections on the overhanging clouds - an integral part of the "turn of the screw" - were invisible. The culmination came with Electra's lighting the way for Aegisthus to enter the palace: laughable, since it took place on a fully lit stage. I would like to say that the paying audience was being shortchanged by these outside television demands, except that most of the audience prefers bright light to any sort of dramatic stage lighting, but certainly it would seem that, if the Met chooses to employ a director of production, as John Dexter is listed as being, one of his jobs should be putting a stop to the deliberate falsification of not only a concept but the ambience of the opera itself. But it seems as if the television Moloch has become, at the Met as elsewhere, too powerful to be gainsaid by mere directors.



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