Right, so, Elektra by Richard Strauss, an opera I have never really got. Sung in a semi staged concert with the Sydney Symphony, and with the Sydney Dance Co providing additional stuff. Yeah, totally not what I would want to see. Except, it had The Goerkinator singing. My opera friends in the UK had all been raving about her performances last year at Covent Garden in this same role, and it seems safe to assume, that this is probably the only chance I would get to hear her live in person.
So, with quite some trepidation, we went, only paying for choir stalls seats, which means we rarely saw the singers faces as they sang facing away from us. Yet, I was still fairly certain I would hear every note from Elektra.
So, basically, I can now say I have heard Elektra live. Sung by the only person I can think of, who actually can sing all the notes, and be heard over that huge orchestra, without resorting to shouting, shrieking, or any other ugliness you care to think of. In short, Christine Goerke is a force of nature with a voice that does not demand to be heard, it gives you no choice, YOU WILL HEAR THIS VOICE! That she can do that over an enlarged Sydney Symphony, unamplified, with her back to us, probably says it all.
To be fair, it is hard to describe performances of an opera that you do not like, without sounding like a prick. I still do not like Elektra, but after this performance, I do get a sense of why people might. But, for me, it is still an opera I can't get past the unlikeable characters, to be moved by their plight. We are not talking music that makes you want to like it, but rather music that reflects the inner turmoil of the characters. It is impressive, but ultimately, if I do not hear it again, I won't be upset.
So, to the singers, really all I need to say is Christine Goerke rocks. She makes this madness musical, she lives those notes, sings them through that orchestra, and does it with ease. Her command of this part, suggests that it was written with her voice in mind. It wasn't, but it might as well have been.
As her mother Klytemnestra, we have a former Elektra in the form of Lisa Gasteen. Like Ms Goerke, she too has power to burn and claimed this part as hers. She made the scary mother, if not likeable, at least believable, with her fears, and her determination to kill and kill again, until she finds peace from the dreams that are slowly driving her mad. The dreams that stem from her killing her husband. Her voice is not as large as Ms Goerke's, and when you think she was one of the go to Brünnhildes of the recent past, you might begin to understand my comments on vocal size. But, she also sang her role in a way that left you understanding these roles can be sung, and not shouted. How rare to hear this, and how wonderful!
As Chrysothemis, Cheryl Barker was also impressive. I was much more impressed with this than some of her other Strauss roles, making me wonder if it is more the length of some of these roles that makes her hold back. In this smaller role, she was vocally fearless, in a way that she was not in say Capriccio a couple of years ago. She threw herself in vocally, and sang out with far more power than we often see from her, making me wish she did it more often.
As Orestes, I was less impressed with Peter Coleman-Wright. To be sure, I rarely like his voice, and this night was no exception. His voice sounded tired, leaving me wish for pretty much any other large baritone in the role. He really was the one weak link I noticed in an evening of very high musical standards.
I also have to say, that all the servants and other minor roles were sung superbly. The fact that most of them are not singing for Opera Australia is quite surprising. I have heard leads in large roles who were less impressive than some of the maids. Or the male servants for that matter (though, only one of them has not sung for them, and Pascal Herrington has just finished his stint at the Conservatorium!)
I also must mention the dancers of the Sydney Dance Company who were a frequent recurrence throughout the evening. While they were decorative, I have to wonder were they really adding to the presentation? Or were they distracting? I tend to feel the later, but, admittedly, I was watching from the back, so they were between the singers and me. They felt too much like an added touch, as if someone suggested it, but no one really thought through the why, just "this seems a good idea" I just found them distracting, not enhancing the action.
On the other hand, definitely enhancing the action was the conductor David Robertson. He has the Symphony sounding amazing, and responding to his every command. I think this may also be the first vocal concert where I heard no brass fluffed notes at all, which certain of my readers will be thrilled to hear!
So, to sum up. This was a concert to go to, to hear some extraordinary voices, sing music that I do not like. That I walked away amazed and thrilled probably says it all.
Christine singing Fidelio.