Review: Two Sopranos make an ‘Elektra’ both mythical and human

Behind the glorious abundance of Strauss’s “Elektra” – the mythical setting of Libreto, the irresistible horror of the score – something small: a sharply framed family portrait, though one that falls off a wall and is scratched by a piece of broken glass.

It was always at the core of Patrice Chero’s production, which returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night. But in this revival, you can be even closer to his two sisters, the antipodal soprano role played by Nina Stem and Lis Davidsen with the light of the floodlight and the painful human sensitivity.

The staging of Chéreau, which premiered at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2013 before it was discontinued six years ago, does not seem to have come of age. And it’s hard to imagine that this would soon happen with a spaceless production that fits the classic tragedy of the timeless Sophocles – which Hugo von Hoffmannsthal adapted into a play for Freud’s age, then transformed into a libretto for Strauss’s opera.

Richard Peduzzi’s set is a vaguely contemporary outfit (designed by Caroline de Vivis) in the vast and solemn backyard of a vaguely Mediterranean home of an obscure elite family. Where the production becomes more precise is the departure from Libreto: its caricature and the absence of the villain, the scene of life continuing in stillness and suffering instead of the climactic dance of death. Most bloodless where it could be a genocide, this is a family study that has been irreversibly broken by trauma.

This idea demands singers who can truly perform. And Stem rises to meet it, if not always vocally, in dramatic intensity, which only increased when he played the title role in the first outing of the Chéreau production at Met. He never rests: he sways when he looks straight ahead, his eyes matching the laser focus to avenge his father, Agamemnon.

When Stem announced his death – a murder committed by Elektra’s mother, Clytamenestra, and his lover Agist – his voice did not always cooperate, especially at the lower end of the range. At times he apparently prepared himself for the most punitive aggression of the role. Yet he distributed them as if to match the dragon’s breath, only the delicate passage of pain.

Davidsen, as the Electra’s sister Chrysothemis, has given Mate his best performance this season – capable of showing a full range compared to Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nornberg” last fall, and more control of his giant instrument than Strauss’s recent race. “Ariadne auf Naxos” and a benefit concert for Ukraine, where he sang “the last four songs” of that composer. Usually a better actor through his voice than his physicality, here he carries the same character as his sad face as the stem did in his eyes.

Davidson let out a cold cry as he preached the news that his brother Orest had died, “thrown by his own horse” – not the last evening. Originally trained as a mezzo-soprano, it has a full-body lower range that is as thrilling as its bright high notes and a commanding softness in more conversational moments.

A met orchestra under the baton of Donald Rannickles supported him and Stem in excellent form, whose scores were sensitively aligned with the reading chero. The opera sounds scary and even more chaotic – its blood-baths combined with Bomast in many interpretations – but the Ranikels emphasized the possibility of dramatic motion on a more restrained scale. And the evening was no less exciting for him; If anything, it was riveting in its expressive clarity, layers of expressive color, sweetness and stacking at the Wagnerian abundance counterpoint or weaving in and out of each other with grace.

Elsewhere, there was a standout – Hei-kyung Hong is an authentic and rendering fifth maid – but there are flaws among the principals as well. Michela Schuster’s Clytemnestra had a distinct gesture and a hushed voice, which she occasionally sought to salvage by announcing on a spreestream. Chéreau’s production relies on a sympathetic Klytämnestra; He did not achieve that perfectly. And men were a shadow of their past appearance. Greer Grimsley’s resonant base-baritone was faded and effortless here, and not always easy to follow. As Aegisth, Stefan Vinke was barely audible – an annoying turn for a tenor who played a role like Siegfried, probably barking but at least with penetrating power.

You can’t help but feel bad whenever they sing with one of the star sisters. Which is always: Stem never leaves the stage. After all, it’s his show – and for this race, Davidsen’s too.

Electra

Through the Metropolitan Opera April 20; metopera.org.

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