Elektra thunders at the Met

And a thunderous Monday night it was, save for the sudden indisposition of Christine Goerke: she was to have sung the title role. For me it was to be the ‘coming out’ party for our next Brünnhilde, a great American hope. Those who saw the impressive Ms. Goerke previously as the Dyer’s Wife in Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten a few seasons ago know that feeling of “Wow! I’ll bet she could do...” I and the entire rest of the house last night for sure were eager to hear her take on Elektra.

Christine Goerke and Elza van den Heever in the Met's  Elektra

Christine Goerke and Elza van den Heever in the Met's Elektra

And so Sabine Hogrefe, her replacement, made her Metropolitan Opera debut. Hogrefe clearly knows the role from performances in Germany: her solid mastery is evidenced as much by her spot-on delivery of the text and her singer-smart pacing as by her attention to the details of the late director Patrice Chéreau’s staging. She was soundly applauded and cheered for. Welcome! No photos were available of Ms. Hogrefe.

With the title role well covered, as abundantly clear from Hogrefe’s opening monologue, all settled in to one of the more gripping performances of this most unsettling opera. From the pit, Yannick Nézet-Séquin continued his run of revelations and discoveries in scores we thought we knew well. Here, as in Act II particularly of this season’s revival of Wagner’s Parsifal, Nézet-Séquin articulates inner thematic voices and rhythms; he widens, as well, the dynamic range of the orchestra, at times coaxing the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to a proper fff fortissimo, but then at other times, as written, he envelopes us in the sound of that all familiar 3 a.m. nightmare. Again, all in good hands. The Met Orchestra played splendidly.

Elza van den Heever as Chrysothemis in  Elektra

Elza van den Heever as Chrysothemis in Elektra

Soprano Elza van den Heever told OperaMetro in an interview after last season’s Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo that the role of Chrysothemis was on the horizon for her. Like Elettra and her Elizabeth I in Anna Bolena, she brings that same riveting intensity to this new role, the complete package of drama and emotion every moment she is on stage. Not to say that she sounds like the great Leonie Rysanek…to be fair, NO one sounds like Leonie Rysanek…stop! Let me finish: I’m saying rather that, like the great Leonie Rysanek, van den Heever is 100% in her character’s skin a hundred percent of the time on stage. Van den Heever portrays conflicting sides of a character when others in some past performances seem content to sing just loud enough to be heard.

Point in fact: during the final tumultuous moments of Elektra, Chrysothemis enters to celebrate the return of Orest and the end of the terrible oppression wrought by her mother Klytämnestra and the lover Aegisth. But she is clearly confused by Elektra’s reticence to join in the more extraverted festivities, implying, what’s wrong with you? Haven’t we achieved what we had hoped for all night?! Elektra simply says “Quiet. And dance,” beckoning all around to join her (at least in the published stage directions). Chrysothemis is further confused by Orest’s indifference to her and to her sister (in this production he coldly walks away without so much as looking back); Chrysothemis seems, at one point, as in "what shall I do?" to accept briefly the advances of a young man. Bottom line: Van den Heever deserved the grand ovation she received at the evening’s end. And yes, it's a thrill to hear her ride vocally over Strauss's large orchestra. Mille bravi!

Michaela Schuster and Christine Goerke in a Mother and Daughter chat

Michaela Schuster and Christine Goerke in a Mother and Daughter chat

But then Michaela Schuster’s Klytämnestra was also excellently depraved and troubled. Here, in her debut role this season, she plays a more grave, perhaps older, less corporate lady type Klytämnestra than did Waltraud Meier in the opening run in spring of 2016. None the less, Schuster’s character is also nuanced, multifaceted and well sung.

Mikhail Peternko’s Orest is young and virile, but in Chéreau’s conception, on and off connected with his family. Kevin Short is the personal Guardian who offs Aegisth with a few jabs to the back. Jay Hunter Morris, who saved the day by taking on heroic role of Siegfried for the Met’s new productions of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, sounded strained, perhaps out of sorts.

Save James Courtney as An Old Servant and Scott Scully as A Young Servant, the rest of the cast are women in various roles. Maids from First to Fifth are Tichina Vaughn, Maya Lahyani, Andrea Hill, Kelly Cae Hogan, and Lisa Gwyn Daltirus. Susan Neves takes two key roles as the Overseer of the Servants and Klytämnestra’s Confidante; Andrea Hill stood out as Maid 3 and Klytämnestra’s Trainbearer. Both of Klytämnestra’s attendants feed her fears and neuroses, like gnats in her ear day and night. No wonder she's a mess.

Elektra is so big vocally, orchestrally and emotionally that a good evening with a great cast and great orchestra in concert will do the trick. It was, of course, intended to be staged, hence praise to Patrice Chéreau for highlighting aspects of the characters and their interactions. But he also misses some opportunities and, sorely, one still misses the hysterics at the end, though I suppose Elektra’s muscular paralysis fits within the definition of a hysterical reaction, if not quite fitting the frenetic dance music Strauss penned. Richard Peduzzi’s set is functional but uninteresting; Dominique Bruguière’s lighting is still too bright for the overall mood of the piece. I thought so last time. It is what it is. And Elektra is what it is: one of the great operas of all time…admittedly of a style. By all means catch the live radio broadcast on March 17!!!

OM’s interview with Elza van den Heever, posted two days fewer than exactly a year ago, is on the page Interviews, sandwiched in between those of Isabel Leonard and Diana Damrau. Next time van den Heever says she’s “tentatively” considering a role, just smile and say, sure Elza, I’ll be there. And I was.

Reviewed performance: March 12, 2018, and guess what, another storm blowing wet outside at the final curtain, just in time for the joy ride home…the third in 10 days.

Photos: Karen Almond.

And yet, as I write this, the storm has fizzled out (at least here). May it be so in your world too. All the best. J.