Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Elektra - LSO/Gergiev, 12 January 2010

Barbican Hall

Elektra – Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet
Chrysothemis – Angela Denoke
Klytemnestra – Felicity Palmer
Orest – Matthias Goerne
Aegisth – Ian StoreyFirst Maid – Olga Legkova
Second Maid – Third Maid – Varvara Kravtsova
Fifth Maid – Lia Shevtsova
Overseer, Confidante – Ekaterina Popova
Trainbearer – Ekaterina Sergeeva
Young Servant/Orest's Companion – Andrey Popov
Old Servant – Vuyani Mlinde

London Symphony Orchestra (chorus master: Joseph Cullen)
London Symphony Chorus
Valery Gergiev (conductor)

I nearly stayed away. After Gergiev’s Mahler Ninth and his Bluebeard’s Castle, I found it difficult to feel wild enthusiasm for the prospect of him conducting Strauss in general or Elektra in particular. However, curiosity, a promising cast, and the LSO won out. In the end, I was pleased to have gone, but it was not an Elektra for the ages. It looked as though it was being recorded for LSO Live. Only Elektra-completists should bother; otherwise, stick with Karl Böhm et al.

Gergiev, as so often in ‘uncharacteristic’ territory, did not appear to have reached a settled view of the score. The opening scene made me fear the worse: hard-driven and shrieking, with a far from rounded orchestral tone. Had Solti returned? Not quite, but it was that sort of performance. There were, however, hints of something more interesting: a good ear for colour in more mysterious passages. It may be a cliché, but Gergiev does seem much better with colour than structure. As a whole, the performance was sectional, some way from the symphonic musico-dramatic structure that Strauss inherited and developed from Wagner. Yet, within the sections, direction was often clear. Dance rhythms were often to the fore, a definite advantage. Some tempi seemed a bit odd, slowed down for no particular reason, and Elektra’s Dance was simply rushed: a pity. The LSO itself was on good form, though it suffered to a certain extent from Gergiev’s lack of overall command. I longed to hear what it might have sounded like under a conductor more at home with the score – Dohnányi, Elder, Bychkov, Barenboim, or Abbado… (The list is not intended to be exhaustive!)

Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet, whom I heard in this role a couple of years or so ago in Berlin, once again impressed. Simply to get through the part is an achievement, but she did much more than that; for the most part accurate, she acted as much as one could within the confines of a concert performance, both visually and vocally. She tired a little at the end, but one can hardly blame her. (Incidentally, it would have been preferable to have some sort of common policy on ‘acting’: a mix of slightly-staged and oratorio does not really work. Surely Gergiev should have made a decision on this.) Angela Denoke gave a detailed reading as Chrysothemis, accurate and musically shaped, but later on especially she could be over-parted. (What a weird part this is, though, in many respects the sickest of the lot, especially concerning her obsession with bearing children.) Matthias Goerne was a thoughtful Orestes, though I did not think him ideally cast. Someone a little more youthful and vigorous in tone – Simon Keenlyside perhaps – might have worked better. Ian Storey was a change from the usual Aegisth: his voice was not lost and so much less of a ‘character role’, let alone caricature. And Felicity Palmer, perhaps predictably, was superb as Klytemnestra. Deranged, vulnerable, haunted, and utterly malevolent: hers was the finest achievement of the lot.

A couple of other cavils probably ought to be voiced. The London Symphony Chorus, lusty though it sounded, was not well-served – or alternatively, was all too well-served – by coming out into the stalls to sing. Admittedly, my front left stalls seat was particularly vulnerable in that respect – other balances there were often very odd indeed – but the chorus, which should be off-stage, simply overwhelmed everything else. Hearing ‘Orest’ shouted at full throttle like that gave a false impression of Strauss’s score, somewhat redolent of the parade ground. It also seemed odd to have so many Russian singers in the small roles. Gergiev’s habit seems to be to import wholesale his Mariinsky troupe: fine for them, I suppose, but might this not have been an opportunity for some local talent to gain experience? Vuyani Mlinde, the sole exception, was perhaps the most impressive, so that need not have been a concern. I certainly have no wish to be parochial, let alone xenophobic, but the impression given in such circumstances is of a branch of Gergiev Inc. as much an LSO performance.