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Review: Stemme and Davidsen Do a Fine Sister Act in ELEKTRA by Strauss at the Met

The grim Patrice Chereau production returns with a stellar cast of acting singers

Review: Stemme and Davidsen Do a Fine Sister Act in ELEKTRA by Strauss at the Met
Davidsen-Stemme. Photo:
Ken Howard/Met Opera

Richard Strauss's ELEKTRA is simply overwhelming--particularly when you have Nina Stemme and, especially, Lise Davidsen, as the title character and her sister Chrysothemis, ably abetted by Greer Grimsley as their brother, Orest, and an incredible supporting cast top to bottom.

From start to finish--lasting under two hours--it's a wash of music that gets under your skin and keeps digging. The tension mounts, higher and higher, at what will happen next: How the sisters and brother will see that their mother and her lover will pay for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.

Review: Stemme and Davidsen Do a Fine Sister Act in ELEKTRA by Strauss at the Met
Stemme and Schuster. Photo:
Ken Howard/Met Opera

There's never a moment to applaud--you're too busy holding your breath--until the blackout ending when there's a brief moment of silence before the audience erupts in cheering, screaming. And it's not just for the principals, including the cooly effective Michaela Schuster as the siblings' evil mother, Klytaemnestra and her murderous cohort, the pithy role of Aegisth, sung by Stefan Vinke. But for all the servants in the house of the murdered Agamemnon, including the estimable Hei-Kyung Hong as the Fifth Maid and Tichina Vaughn as the First Maid.

I would be lying if I didn't tell you that some new audiences find it too intense and go wild with enthusiasm while saying "Never again." It's that exhausting. Yet, under Donald Runnicles' baton, there was a sense of order and the orchestra gave us brilliant sound in return.

Chereau definitely had his own ideas about the opera, including his dreary vision of the Palace of Mycenae, which I found offputting, and this follows over to Stemme's Elektra. Elektra is helpless, hopeless from the start, seeming brutalized, dead-eyed until the arrival of her brother, when she comes alive, though still unable to act.

Review: Stemme and Davidsen Do a Fine Sister Act in ELEKTRA by Strauss at the Met
Stemme-Davidsen. Photo:
Ken Howard/Met Opera

I'm not sure what the director was thinking about Chrysothemis, because Davidsen seemed very different from the others I've seen in this production. I find her incapable of being less than captivating, not matter what the role. Here, she is somewhat girlish yet more in command, as if feeling there is a chance that something might turn out right, though not for Klytaemnestra and Aegisth. Upon his recognition as the thought-dead brother, Grimsley took charge where his sisters could not, seeing no other way for the story to end except in the death of his mother and her accomplice-lover.

This was not, I believe, an ELEKTRA that Birgit Nilsson and Leonie Rysanek would have fit in easily, as they did in the production that was introduced when the Met moved to Lincoln Center and had a long run. (Of course, Nilsson had other complaints about the Herbert Graf production.) But that was another time--and we need to feel grateful for a cast like the current one.

The Met will have five more performances of ELEKTRA this season through April 20. See the Met's website for further information.



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