This 'Elektra' should be mourned Conductor: Daniel Barenboim leads a dull version of Richard Strauss' raging opera.

Classical Sounds

March 02, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Richard Strauss, "Elektra," performed by Deborah Polaski, Alessandra Marc, Waltraud Meier, Johan Botha, the Chorus of the Berlin State Opera and the Berlin State Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim conducting (Teldec 4509-99175-2).

Strauss' "Elektra" can be called nightmarish, ugly and perverted; listening to it makes you want to take a shower afterward. The one thing the listener never expects this opera to be -- never mind how badly sung or played -- is boring.

Nevertheless, Daniel Barenboim has accomplished what heretofore seemed impossible: He makes "Elektra" really dull! Even though the conductor takes most of the cuts traditionally observed in the theater, this "Elektra" feels much longer than any of the complete recordings conducted by Georg Solti, Seiji Ozawa and Wolfgang Sawallisch.

In the interview included in the liner notes, Barenboim says that what this complex, intense score needs is "tremendous transparency." Never mind that Barenboim isn't sufficiently skillful to achieve transparency in a score that calls for an orchestra of 115 players. What he actually does is to adopt

plodding tempos that not only fail to supply any sense of urgency in this raging music, but also fail to sustain a phrase. Even the famous jagged chords, which open and close the opera and which recur every time the title character cries out "Agamemnon," sound matter-of-fact. And such milquetoast complaisance is found everywhere in this performance, whether in the music that accompanies Klytemnestra's berserk, disruptive entrance or Elektra's demented dancing.

If that weren't enough to nominate this performance for an early departure to the cut-out bins, it also features the weakest singing -- even with so prominent a cast -- to be found in any "Elektra" on records. The (dis)honors are divided equally between Deborah Polaski as Elektra and Alessandra Marc as Chrysothemis.

Polaski doesn't have a voice powerful enough for the role, and she is often off pitch. But what's worse is that she brings scarcely any passion to the role. Marc has the necessary vocal heft, but her diction sounds like mush, her singing is almost always locked in at one dynamic level and her characterization never penetrates beneath the surface.

There is outstanding singing from Waltraud Meier's Klytemnestra, but she is not enough to carry the performance. The men are also mostly excellent. But Richard Wagner's remark -- "Woman is opera!" -- was never so pertinent: No one ever wants to hear (or buy a recording of) "Elektra" because of the men.

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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