The last production ever staged by Patrice Chéreau, this 'Elektra' will remain as the most striking events of recent years in Aix-en-Provence.
"This production, with Esa-Pekka Salonen on the podium, the Orchestre de Paris in the pit, an all-star cast and Patrice Chéreau directing, has been hyped so hard that it would be gratifying to be able to enumerate its imperfections. But there are none. Chéreau, Salonen and their cast get everything so appallingly right… Chéreau takes Hofmannsthal’s chilling libretto to the letter, in the most minutely exacting manner, and Salonen does the same with the score, conducting with all the dispassionate clarity of the gore in a Tarantino film. If it were merely gore, it would be bad enough. Far worse, though, both men see every moment of tenderness in text and score in perfect detail.
These murderous family members are not monsters. They are real people, filled with love and yearning, damaged beyond repair.
Evelyn Herlitzius lives and breathes the mammoth title role. She is a wild animal, a dirt-smeared urchin in oversized men’s clothes, her wiry body barely containing the huge, disturbing emotions of her matricidal character. Her jerky, broken dance is one of this production’s many unforgettable moments. The opening night audience leapt to its feet to applaud her.
As her far more feminine sister, Adrianne Pieczonka is a revelation, with a lavishly creamy voice capable of expressing all the emotions that Elektra forbids herself. Waltraud Meier’s Klytämnestra is so dignified as to be almost harmless, a frail figure whose subsequent slaughter seems out of proportion to her errors. The men are strong, led by Mikhail Petrenko as an unnervingly compassionate Orest.
Richard Peduzzi’s sets and Caroline de Vivaise’s costumes set the action somewhere that could be the vestiges of any modern conflict, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, a grey, comfortless world of concrete, fear and oppression. Under Salonen’s merciless direction, the Orchestre de Paris gives the lie to preconceptions about French orchestras and German romanticism, with playing that is transparent, brawny and seductive all at once.
The whole is so horribly compelling that it is hard to remember to breathe, and even harder not to join Elektra in eager passion for the closing bloodbath. Chéreau does not even bother with blood; in the end, Orest strangles his mother. It is vile, and utterly wonderful.
This production goes on to La Scala, Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Finnish National Opera, the Liceu in Barcelona and the Staatsoper Berlin. It has all the strengths of Chéreau’s legendary staging of Janácek’s 'From the House of the Dead'. Its shelf life will be long, and it will be talked about for even longer. A triumph for Aix." *****Shirley Apthorp, Financial Times