Girl's night out: Elektra MET 2022.IV.12
Updated: Apr 21
Met double-debutante Rebecca Nash welcomed into the Agamemnon household
by Schuster, Davidsen, Grimsley, Vinke, Runnicles, and audience
1st Maid • Tichina Vaughn
2nd Maid • Eve Gigliotti
3rd Maid / Klytämnestra's Trainbearer • Krysty Swann (debut run)
4th Maid • Alexandria Shiner (debut run)
5th Maid • Kei-Kyung Hong
Overseer of the Servants / Klytämnestra's Confidante • Alexandra LoBianco
Elektra • Rebecca Nash (joint Met and role debut replacing Nina Stemme!)
Chrysothemis • Lise Davidsen
Klytämnestra • Michaela Schuster
Young Servant • Thomas Capobianco (debut run)
Old Servant • Richard Bernstein
Orest • Greer Grimsley
Orest's Guardian • Harold Wilson
Aegisth • Stefan Vinke
conductor • Donald Runnicles
prompter • Caren Levine
For heartwarming weeknight programming, it would be hard to beat the Met post-Elektra curtain calls on Tuesday 04/12, during which the cast extended palpable warmth towards double-debutante Rebecca Nash. Ms. Nash had just introduced herself to the Met public—!—while on her maiden voyage through the title role—!!—als Einspring (jumping in) for today's preeminent Elektra Nina Stemme—!!! At opera's end, she walked onstage under the friendly arm of her stage sister Lise Davidsen; during bows, Nash received individual hugs by her stage relatives; during the second wave of solo bows there was a mirthful misunderstanding regarding bow order between Davidsen and Schuster. Both Nash and conductor Donald Runnicles gratefully acknowledged the production's vailant prompter Caren Levine. Throughout these acknowledgements the Met audience reacted warmly, and as the curtain fell for good, group whoops from The Elektric Company leapt from the stage into the house: priceless!
Sic semper, the surging tide carrying all ships in high style was the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, unflagging through the rigors of this high-pressure score, unfailingly at one with the direction of Runnicles, who cued the cast vigilantly throughout the performance. (Bravi as well to the chorus, robust-toned in their brief yet arduous interjections.)
One hopes the Met audience recognizes how spoiled it is to hear an Elektra orchestra span the gamut from generous, never raucous tutti to gossamer whisperings still secure of tone, pitch, and rhythmic response – and in a weeknight repertory performance, to boot!
The crucial comprimario network was uniformly strong, combining artists familiar to the Met public with three singers in their company debut runs. Among the latter was the first male voice heard in the opera: bright-toned Thomas Capobianco as the Young Servant. Later on, Orest's Guardian was performed with appropriate gravitas by Harold Wilson. One can't shake the feeling that their respective characterizations would have gained greater focus if their diction had been more idiomatic (less American) and further relished—human intentions make themselves heard through the very sounds of a language.
Particular bravo to Richard Bernstein who sonorously commanded attention right from the onset of his starting note in each of the Old Servant's two phrases.
Collectively and individually formidable, the working women of the household:
• The voice that opens the opera, a sepulchral-toned Tichina Vaughn, fondly remembered from her Ulrica in San Francisco Opera's 2006 Un ballo in maschera;
• Eve Gigliotti (praised elsewhere in this blog for her Giovanna in a late January Rigoletto) robust-toned as is her wont;
• Krysty Swann, whose vocal chestiness (pettosità) fortifies even her middle register to stimulating effect, vividly acerbic in the Third Maid's wide-ranging narratives;
• The Italians colorfully refer to operatic vocal projection as «le voci che corrono in teatro»: voices that run into the theatre. Alexandria Shiner's voice runs into the theatre instantly, not by force but thanks to the energy, resonance, and overtones concentrated in her every note. She scored a personal victory by easing into her first sustained high A («Männer») piano-crescendo.
This Elektra series marks the Met debut runs of both Swann and Shriner: brave e benvenute!
Stroke of luxury casting: heard elsewhere in dramatic repertoire from Turandot to Chrysothemis (Lyric Opera of Chicago), Alexandra LoBianco was winningly imperious as both the Overseer (Aufseherin) and Klytämnestra's confidante. The Aufseherin is a loudmouth part, spewing syllabic venom across the middle and top registers, reaching up to high As and B-flats without little preparation, demanding that the singer constantly establish text, pitch, and tone without rhythmic latitude, all of which LoBianco achieved with a quickness.
Further stroke of luxury casting: returning to the Met stage after almost two-and-a-half years' absence, long-cherished Met regular Hei-Kyung Hong illuminated the Fifth Maid's feisty lyricism with her uniquely agrodolce timbre, provoking an aural frisson with her still lustrous high A («an Elektra getan»).
Whatever virile appeal Aegisth had prior to lording over the manor, no trace remains of his character in the opera proper. He's meant to sound like the grande antipaticone he is, a vocal line befitting a paranoid drill sergeant, all declamatory syllabic phrases set in stiff speech rhythms—marziale even in waltz time! Kudos to Stefan Vinke for precisely fulfilling that function, his thick tone steadily cleaving through every unseductive phrase, and once confronted with imminent mortality hurling out bellicose top tones.
Onore di famiglia: in their course through the high-stakes drama, never did the Agamemnon family leave Strauss's score behind. On occasion they availed themselves of those «expressionistic» inflections plucked from the vocabulary of raw emotion for which the vocal lines do allow. However, their judicious applications of these sounds were the honest result of a deep belief in the opera, a deep familiarity with the score, and a communal discipline to perform it as vocally and musically responsibly as possible. There was no «Damn-the-Notes and Bust-Our-Throats as We Stampede Through the Drama»—performers of more hyperbolic bent who contrive to intensify their characterizations with vocally-abusive stratagems succeed merely in contaminating the opera with grotesquerie.
Greer Grimsley's Orest was a study in gravitas: concentrated stillness, economy of gesture, vocally committed to every note, which he launched into the Met space with full intent.
What a ferociously intelligent stage animal is Michaela Schuster! Her stage grandeur came from her investment in the music, text, and stagecraft: listening to Elektra with her back to the audience, Schuster gave the impression of gradually becoming taller the further she listened! Owning and cherishing every syllable, she flavored her tones with the aforementioned expressionistic inflections in the manner of a great diseuse, touches which further communicated Klytämnestra's vulnerability. Viva la mamma!
Chrysothemis was Lise Davidsen, a superb fit between role and artist: a big-hearted young woman whose ongoing pages of richly-orchestrated vocal line lie in the juiciest parts of Davidsen's range. A simpatica stage presence and clearly a supportive stage partner to Nash's debuting Elektra, those personal qualities inform her interpretation of the role.
Clean-eared assessment of Davidsen's vocal craft must begin with the realization that The Davidsen Voice propagated via modern technology is a mere shadow of The On-Site-In-Real-Time Thing. Hers is an instrument rich in overtones, every note glowing with that ring as they travel undeterred from the stage to the audience's ears, and she pours her voice into the Met space with unforced generosity—a viscerally galvanizing combination.
Painstaking listening found Davidsen's topmost tones (A-natural onward) occasionally shy of vibrato and painstaking viewing found her achieving those pitches with a pulling back of the jaw: cautionary observations.
Whatever advance notice she may (not) have received, Rebecca Nash's Elektric Einspring introduced the Met audience to a serious artist, scrupulously prepared musically, vocally, and scenically, mentally alert throughout the performance and physically free enough to interpret the role. Never having played the instrument of the hall's acoustic before and responsible for carrying the arduous title role on her first try, Nash may not have singed the ears but (from my vantage point) was consistently audible. Her ace is a brilliant top register, encompassing all Elektra's topmost tones (occasional B-flats skewed sharp), and she kept her middle register calm, resisting any temptation to push.
Bug or feature: Nash's habit of scooping / hooking to emphasized notes within phrases (i.e. starting the note onset under-pitch and tuning up once settled)—there was a touch of Gwyneth Jones in her initial «Allein!… Agamemnon!». May she see fit to ameliorate that habit: she's too good an artist to be dogged by it.
Our opera world is not flush with artists whose promise lies in the dramatic repertoire, thus one fervently hopes for the proper artistic and career championing of Mss. Gigliotti, Swann, Shiner, LoBianco, and Nash!
The Met takes all six standard cuts as documented by the opera's first «complete» studio recording made in 1960 by Deutsche Grammophon under the baton of Strauss disciple Karl Böhm:
1. Rehearsal #225 until #228.
16 bars of Klytämnestra threatening ways of getting answers out of Elektra preceding «Was bluten muß?»
2. #240 until third bar of #255.
Approximately 100 bars of Elektra elucidating how Klytämnestra will meet her end.
E: «Und ich, ich, ich, ich,
ich, die ihn dir geschickt,
ich steh da
und seh dich endlich sterben!»
3. #59 until #68a.
The latter 71 bars of E's «Wie stark du bist!», continuing with Chrysothemis's «Laß mich!»
4. #89a until #102:
100-plus bars of Elektra declaring herself to be more than a sister to Chrysothemis, continuing with Elektra trying to make Chrysothemis swear that the pair of them will commit the expiatory violence.
C: «Nicht, Schwester, nicht.
Sprich nicht ein solches Wort in diesem Haus.»
E: «Dir führt kein Weg hinaus als der.»
5. #104 until #108a.
35 bars of the sisters' struggle, continuing with Chrysothemis's final «Ich kann nicht!» and Elektra's «Sei verflucht!»
33 bars of Elektra's revelations to Orest prior to his «Laß zittern diesen Leib».
E: «und das Gräßliche von ihr und ihrer Seele weghält.
Verstehst du's, Bruder?»
Was schaust du ängstlich um dich?
Sprich zu mir! Sprich doch!
Du zitterst ja am ganzen Leib?»
O: «Laß zittern diesen Leib.» etc.