- Elektra, opera, Op. 58 (TrV 223) - Richard Strauss - Semyon Bychkov - Graham Clark - Westdeutschen Rundfunk-Orchester, Cologne - Franz Grundheber - Hugo von Hofmannsthal - Felicity Palmer - Deborah Polaski - Birgitta Svenden - Anne Schwanewilms - Arnold Bezuyen - Hans-Martin Höpner - Susanne Resmark - Birgit Fauseweh - Margarita de Arellano - Twyla Robinson - Irmgard Vilsmaier - Alfred Walker - Lars Woldt - Viola Zimmermann
It may at first seem odd that a recording of Strauss' "Elektra" should feature on the front cover the name and the photograph of the conductor and not of the soprano in the title role. And, after listening to the recording, it may seem odder still. This is not to say that conductor Semyon Bychkov isn't a superlative Strauss conductor. He most surely is. The way he shapes the sonorities into glowing bands, the way he balances the lines into brilliant colors, the way he drives the tempos from climax to orgasmic climax: these are the hallmarks of a great Strauss conductor. Nor is this to say that the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln is not a more than a capable Strauss orchestra. It most surely is. Although it lacks a distinctive Strauss sound like, say, the Vienna Philharmonic or the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Köln orchestra still performs with enormous energy and tremendous virtuosity. This is to say that with American soprano Deborah Polaski in the title role, the conductor along with everyone on-stage better watch themselves. Here is an Elektra who will not stop until she completely, totally, and utterly dominates the production. This is not to say that Polaski is not a team player. She allows Bychkov to manage the orchestra and the drama just as she allows the magnificently frightening Felicity Palmer as Klytämnestra, the tenderly foolish Anne Schwanewilms as Chrysothemis, and the heroically stolid Franz Grundheber as Orest to have their moments in the spotlight. But when she's on-stage -- and she's almost always on-stage -- Polaski dominates. It's not just Polaski's amazing technical control, her astonishingly powerful upper range, and her absolutely astounding stamina. It's her stunning acting in the title role. Most listeners are used to Elektra sung as a mad woman, that is, with little nuance and less subtlety but lots and lots of volume in compensation. Polaski, however, sings Elektra as a woman gone mad but who knows all too well what pushed her over the edge and into the abyss, thereby infusing the character with a humanity that makes her tragedy all the more compelling. With plenty of detail but too little atmosphere, Hänssler's sound is clear but perhaps a bit too clean.
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