|Meier and Stemme in Chereau's Elektra, photo @Marty Sohl|
My favorite TV series now that Mad Men is over is Game of Thrones. I've followed the sex and gore in Westeros since the first season and have also read all of George R,R. Martin's books. One of the greatest things about Game of Thrones is the character of Cersei. Cersei is the series' great villainess. She's pure evil. It would take too long to list all of Cersei's depraved machinations and deeds. But one of the fascinating aspects of Cersei is that all of her actions are understandable, and even sympathetic. In her own mind, she's doing the right thing, and when we watch her, we find ourselves agreeing.
|Pieconzka and Stemme, photo @ Marty Sohl|
|Stemme and Owens, photo @ Marty Sohl|
Waltraud Meier's ageless beauty and incredible acting skills almost made up for the fact that at this point, the core of her voice simply is insufficient to carry over the orchestra. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen wisely withdrew the volume during the riveting mother-daughter confrontation scene but even with the orchestra marking there were times I saw Meier's mouth open and very little sound came out. She eventually settled on a form of sing-speech but Strauss's music really demands more voice than Meier can provide at this stage of her career. Meier did not do the traditional cackle at the "news" of Orest's death. It was an unorthodox but effective choice. Queen Cersei does not need to cackle to exert her power.
Eric Owens (Orest) had the opposite problem -- his handsome bass-baritone had the firmness, richness, and pure volume that the ladies lacked. But for whatever reason he fit awkwardly into the production. Chéreau's personenregie calls for more subtlety than Owens can provide -- Owens is a straightforward sort of performer, and Chéreau's vision of Orest is ambiguous and unsettling. Burkhard Ulrich as Aegisth had a similar problem -- plenty of voice, but unable to make an impact in his brief time onstage. He seemed like a bland guy in a suit.
Esa-Pekka Salonen got a huge deserved ovation for his sensitive reading of Strauss's score. If one craved decibels, he didn't disappoint -- the overwhelming loudness of the orchestra was ear-splitting in the side balcony boxes where I sat. But he also was scrupulous about following the almost lilting waltz rhythms that dot the score, and the Met orchestra sounded gorgeous during the more lyrical moments.
Last night's performance vocally wasn't an Elektra for the ages -- in terms of pure vocal fireworks, the concert at Carnegie Hall with Christine Goerke was more exciting. But the Met now has a wonderful new production of Strauss's seminal opera, one that hopefully will be handled with care in upcoming revivals. Strauss's opera and Hofmannstahl's libretto are not subtle. They were designed to shock, to provoke, to offend. But Sophocles' play is a timeless drama about love, hate, power, and revenge. Chéreau managed to remain true to both Strauss/Hofmannstahl and Sophocles. This was Greek tragedy at its best.