Powerful new Elektra at Covent Garden

I went along to the opening night of Covent Garden’s new revival of Elektra with an open mind, expecting to be challenged, perhaps disappointed. After all, Salome, Elektra’s precursor and the last Richard Strauss opera I saw in London, had been a disappointment.

No need to worry. This was a powerful performance, with a forceful score, stirringly played by the ever reliable house band under Mark Elder, and a finely chiselled libretto by Viennese Wunderkind Hugo von Hoffmansthal which had me gasping in delight more than once.

Elektra, the lead soprano role, is unusually demanding, both vocally and emotionally – the troubled heroine (?) is on stage for the entire 110-minute performance. Susan Bullock was equal to the task, engaging you throughout with her singing and acting.

Anne Schwanewilms, playing Chrysothemis, her rather less bloodthirsty sister, was a revelation. I’ve rarely heard such a convincing big soprano voice. Her’s is enormous. But a delight, too.

Elektra’s a modern opera, so you don’t get much melody, and no pretty arias and duets a la Puccini or Mozart. But no matter – its strength lies in the power of the writing and the subtle portrayal of character under stress.

This new Elektra is richly stimulating, demanding yet rewarding.

And recommended.

Gerry Smith

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