Dutoit’s Last Stand: Elektra in concert

The Philadelphia Orchestra: Richard Strauss, Elektra, Op. 58,  Charles Dutoit, conductor, Eva Johannson, soprano, Melanie Diener, Mezzo-soprano, (Chrysothemis), Jane Hernschel (Klytamnestra), Ain Anger, bass (Oreste), Siegfried Jerusalem, Tenor (Aegisth), Jessica Klein, Soprano (Klytamenstra’s Confident), Allison Sanders Soprano (Klytamenstra’s Trainbearer), John Easterlin Tenor (Young Servant), Brandon Cedel, Bass-Baritone, (Orest’s Tutor), Susan Neves, Soprano (overseer), Kathryn Day, Mezzo–soprano, (First Maid) , Laura Vlasak Nolen, Mezzo-soprano (second Maid), Maria Zifchak, Mezzo-soprano (Third Maid), Priti Gandhi, Soprano (Fourth Maid), Jennifer Check, Soprano (Fifth Maid), Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia (Men Servants, Maid Servants), Alan Harler, Artistic Director. Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, May 10 & May 12, 2012, Review of May 10 for WRTI, 90. 1 fm.

What a night at the opera Charles Dutoit gave us at Verizon Thursday. Richard Strauss’s Elektra in concert with The Philadelphians,  Eva Johansson  in the title role. Hugo van Hofmannstahl’s take on Sophocles puts you in the thick of the dysfunctional, timeless family. The perfect librettist, as Strauss often told him.

Thursday’s performance was spellbinding.  Not a mediocre voice in the cast of 15.  Johannson,  looking rightfully obsessive proved her stamina in a role that has her singing nearly an hour and a half and with tremendous force as well as lyricism. Melanie Diener, as Elektra’s  cautious sister, was extremely appealing,  vocally and in her  interactions with Johannson. The two were persuasive sisters.  Jane Henschel was the very bad mom, Klytemnestra. The mezzo voice conveyed rage, doubt, manipulation, in multiple She’s the character you love to hate and she didn’t miss the offstage shouts and whispers either.

As Klytemestra’s lover, Seigfried Jerusalem has a walk- on role before he gets the literal axe and the tenor made the most of it. Opera lovers in the house were in goose-bump mode watching a famous Wagnerian Siegfried deliver this part. Estonian Bass Ain  Anger, as Orestes, had a beautiful bearing and tone  in the role of the missing brother to the tormented Elektra. Their scene  was deeply poignant.

Elektra requires a giant orchestra; the Philadelphians almost overflowed the stage. Eight horns, four clarinets, three bassoons, contrabassoon, six trumpets….. you get the idea. The sound was exciting and ominous.  Elektra and Orestes revenge the death of their father by killing his unfaithful and murderous wife, their mother. Messy, old story. Leave it to Strauss to let the music  soar – just when you think things can’t darker or more dissonant. Then come the strings to ravish or those wisps of flute.

Elektra in concert is maestro Dutoit’s swan song as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s chief conductor here. When he returns in 2012-2013 season, Dutoit will be laureate, a title he richly deserves.

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