CONDUCTOR: Esa-Pekka Salonen

DIRECTOR: Vincent Huguet, based on the Patrice Chéreau concept

CAST: Nina Stemme, Waltraud Meier, Adrianne Pieczonka, Eric Owens

RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes, no interval

RATING: 5 stars (out of 5)

Paul Boekkooi

TO END their Live in HD season, the Metropolitan Opera’s choice fell on Patrice Chéreau’s production of Elektra, by Richard Strauss. It is an opera dominated by women and primarily based on the ancient Greek mythical play by Sophocles. The composer and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, dragged it down from the lofty realm of tragedy to that of the pathologically perverse.

Film audiences throughout the season could enjoy the sensuous virtues of firmness, purity, richness and smoothness of the soprano voice. Here a different kind of sound is demanded from the singer in the title role. Through Elektra’s convincingly enacted psychotic behaviour, we are carried into the kernel of all her tortures of the mind.

She is not the only one struggling with life’s issues. Her sister Chrysothemis is more gentle, but also has her writhing, over-wrought, frustrating moments. Klytemnestra, their mother, reflects a guilt-ridden person, with inner disintegration and an intriguing complexity. It’s fascinating how the three divas pour even a wider range of probable character traits through their vocalisation and instinctive theatrical insights.

Searching for a description of Elektra as a whole, the American Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic, Tim Page, wrote: “Dark, chaotic, and crushingly dissonant, it may be the only work of early modernism that retains the power to shock an audience silly; after more than a century, it has lost none of its horrible fascination.”

Chéraud, a Frenchman, who died shortly after this production premiered at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2013, could be described as one of the most inventive and versatile directors of his time. His Elektra reflects one of his strongest points of departure: to present even singers in the smallest roles as deeply considered characters.

The Met’s dedication to Chéraud of this staging resonates even more due to the fact that conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen leads this performance, like he did in Aix-en-Provence.

Nina Stemme’s Elektra has the kind of frisson through which she can fearlessly ooze, both in singing and acting, the quality of being memorable throughout. She commands the electricity generated by the knowledge that a perilous high note or a crucial stroke of word painting can be attempted once only.

Stemme’s voice is bright at the top, darkly smoky in the lower register, has a range of expression, while her frightful leaps above the stave win her shouts of approval at the end. However, she is just as impressive in the more introverted scenes, like the lament over the supposed death of Orestes, tausendmal und tausendmal, rending the heart.

Adrianne Pieczonka’s Chrysothemis is properly distraught and edgy, but also adds a refreshing element of humanity to her vision, while her voice can soar almost as easily as Stemme’s. The queen among current mezzo-sopranos in the German repertoire, Waltraud Meier, uses her steady and rounded voice with a restraint yet intense manner.

Her Klytemnestra is securely focused. Eric Owens as Orestes is in excellent voice.

The Met Orchestra is constantly on edge under Salonen – musically speaking a true lightning conductor. Don’t miss this.

Until June 9 at all Cinema Nouveau and selected Ster-Kinekor theatres.