Sister, where art thou?

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on October 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

Review – Elektra (Royal Opera House, Tuesday 1 October 2013)

Elektra – Christine Goerke
Chrysothemis – Adrienne Pieczonka
Klytämnestra – Michaela Schuster
Orest – Iain Paterson
Ägisth – John Daszak
Maids – Anna Burford, Catherine Carby, Elizabeth Sikora, Elizabeth Woollett, Jennifer Check
Overseer – Elaine McKrill
Confidant – Louise Armit
Trainbearer – Marianne Cotterill
Young Servant – Doug Jones
Old Servant – Jeremy White
Orest’s Companion – John Cunningham

Director, Set & Lighting – Charles Edwards
Costume Designs – Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Movement Director – Leah Hausman

Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra
Conductor – Andris Nelsons

A question.

Why is Adrienne Pieczonka not heard more often in the UK either on stage or in recital?

I have long admired her recordings of Richard Strauss lieder and Wagner. I have also seen her in Munich as the Marschallin and as a superlative Empress in Vienna.

And her incredible performance as Chrysothemis in Charles Edwards’ production of Elektra was the highlight of the entire evening. Vocally she out-paced both her Hellenic sister and mother with a role-performance that I cannot remember being bettered.

Her warm lustrous tone – golden and rich – effortlessly and tirelessly scaled the vocal lines written by Strauss. And the gorgeous, youthful bloom she also invested in her singing, combined with her sympathetic acting made the innocence of her character even more believable.

Breathtaking in her musicianship as she soared through Ich Kann Nicht Sitzen Und Ins Dunkel Starren, she also coloured her voice with heartrending tragedy as she shifted between her desire to be a woman and mother and her current predicament. And her final cries at the end of the opera were similarly laden with the tragedy of what had occurred.

Michaela Schuster as Klytämnestra was also vocally strong and unlike other singers in this role did not overplay the mother’s psychosis. This made her scene with Elektra much more dramatic and Schuster was – for me – impressive.

And so to Christine Goerke’s Elektra. She clearly has the heft and volume for this role and it was dramatically mesmerizing at times. But it was a one-speed performance in terms of emotional range. This was an Elektra mad throughout and while Goerke’s acting abilities were able to carry this off with an intensity that was gripping, I personally missed a more subtly shaded characterization. Indeed the only time this Elektra seemed to change emotional track was as she breathed her last.

Nor was it always vocally secure. There were moments of distracting vibrato at the top of her range and a lack of warmth and depth in those passages which require a greater sense of lyricism. Most tellingly, immediately after she recognizes her brother, Goerke sounded strained at the top of her range and didn’t quite find the warmth and bloom in her voice that this magical moment requires.

Of the men, John Dasak was a clarion-bright Ägisth but the Oreste of Iain Paterson, while suitable dark and brooding sounded closed and at times almost muffled. The smaller roles – particular those of the five Maids – were well cast.

Charles Edwards’ set remains austerely impressive even after a decade. I am sure that there were changes to the movement and direction of the opera since last I saw it at Covent Garden but I do wonder if it might not be time to look anew at this opera.

And finally in the pit, Andris Nelsons drew some superb playing from the orchestra. The strings were warm and burnished and he picked out with precision the details in the score throughout – what particularly comes to the mind is the torture of the Fifth Maid and Klytämnestra’s arrival for example. And as well as finding the inevitably brutality within the music, Nelsons spun out the lyricism, giving the music – and the audience – time to breath without ever losing the momentum to the final denouement.

There is no denying that this was an incredible performance of Elektra. There is also no denying that overall, Goerke’s performance in the title role was committed and full-throated.

However personally – and I think for many people in the audience – it was the night of a memorable Chrysothemis from Adrienne Pieczonka.

I hope that this is the start of more frequent performances by this very talented soprano here in the UK.

  1. Totally agree with you about Adrianne Piezconka’s vocal talent. We are lucky here in Toronto to have our home town girl sing with the Canadian Opera Company(COC) each season.Two years ago she sang the title role in Ariadne for the COC and it was spectacular. The voice opened up as the evening progressed and it became simply one of those magical moments in opera when one was listening to absolute greatness. I heard Renee Fleming do it a few months later from Munich I believe and although good for me it did not compare with Adrianne’s for sheer vocal tone, warmth and interpretation.
    Your blog is highly enjoyable.

    • Thank you for your kind words – much appreciated. Adrienne Pieczonka is indeed marvellous. If you haven’t got it alreadu I recommend the complete recording of Strauss’ songs conducted by Haider. She features throughout the set and sings the Vier Letzte Lieder beautifully.

  2. […] am currently nonplussed by Christine Goerke. I recently saw her Elektra at Covent Garden and – truth be told – was not as bowled over as others with her performance. […]

  3. […] Pieczonka – who was so mesmerizing as Chrysosthemis in London recently – brought a regal humanity to the role of the Kaiserin. Vocally she was simply […]

  4. […] the 150th celebration in 2014, Richard Strauss features on my highlights of 2013. Covent Garden’s Elektra was a highlight not so much for Christine Goerke in the title role but for Adrianne Pieczonka as […]

  5. […] it incredible that we haven’t seen Ms Herlitzius in London. But then the same can be said of Ms Pieczonka in our capital and not forgetting that Anne Schwanewilms has only recently made her debut at the […]

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