DPolish director Krzysztof Warlikowski has a simple answer as to why he loves the Greek tragedy so much: “There is mother murder, child murder, father murder, incest. And they even eat their children. “
That promised goodies for his “Elektra”, the opening production of the Salzburg Festival, which is so special this year and also celebrates its centenary.
“Elektra” was the first joint opera work by the two Salzburg founding fathers Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who had previously reworked the Sophocles material as an act. But before the first agamemnon chord, which was so incredibly effective, two prologues took place in Salzburg.
Only at lunchtime did the very clever Alexander Kluge act in a new four-part series, devised by Artistic Director Markus Hinterhäuser for the Corona Festival schedule, about the Festival century from 1920 to 2020. It was more a sermon for fasting than a ceremonial opening act.
Kluge, who was originally planned as a dialogue partner with Georg Baselitz and, when he greeted Hinterhäuser, was above all reminiscent of the clever formulation of Kluge’s film title “The middle road brings death in danger and greatest need”. About the festival and the game as intelligent actions that need to be thought out and planned beforehand, about the festival as large, public mourning work, which then makes life easier after catharsis.
But mostly he showed what he also does on television: short film clips, sometimes illuminating, sometimes banal. And for the “Elektra” including the original sin of the murder of the husband, there were pictures of a black woodpecker who kills her cub and throws it out of the tree nest.
Then – second prologue – Krzysztof Warlikowski wanted to be smarter than the opera authors, and thought that he had to teach the tragedy the prehistory of a college teacher, which this rousing opera in its breathless orgiastic 105 minutes then fanned out with 115 musicians in an exemplary manner.
“Victory is mine”
Klytemnästra, cicaded, gets an ineffective early appearance in her undergarment and, as a mythical megaira, is allowed to shout her justification for murder into the microphone: “Victory is mine”. That makes Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, who is otherwise as a concentrated, light-weight but intense and terrific as a modern singing actress, less good than a trained actress.
So there is plenty of time to calmly take a look at the theater that Małgorzata Szczęśniak has built on the ridiculously wide stage of the Felsenreitschule. On the left is a glass-steel cube lined with margarine, where the queen and her wreaths reside, where Elektra, as a small child, has to watch the deadly hatchet being swung.
Three naked, hairless mannequins for children stand next to them as meaningless dummies. To the right, the palace courtyard curves below the closed rows of arcades as a shimmering metal wall interrupted by rusty showers.
The beautifully reflecting Kneipp basin in front of it, and the surrounding wooden benches with towels and a gymnastics bench with leather mat make you think of a neglected wellness resort, in which Elektra, from the beginning on the scene, likes to relax with a group in her mouth, but not really .
The maids are gossiping and panting too busy, a couple of children are clapping, an old woman is leading a naked woman under the shower. And the undead Papa Agamemnon shuffles past.
An elektra without darkness
When it calms down, Ausrine Stundyte starts. The Lithuanian soprano has made a name for herself above all as an uncompromising designer in shrill, women on the brink of nervous breakdown roles. But it is not a real highly dramatic one, just a hysterodramatic one.
Want to say: below she seems naked, there is not much voice volume, no darkness, she dances rope without support and net on the capital of her vocal cords; you can imagine vibrato in ten years at the latest.
On the other hand, she overwhelmed as a vulnerable, abused young, attractive woman, dressed in a white dress, bolero jacket and shoulder bag as a good confirmation. And it is precisely in the warm, humane poetry of the recognition scene with her brother Orest that the logic of this cast is revealed at times.
Krzysztof Warlikowski is a sensitive designer of exceptional psychological situations. This is also the case here when the insecure sister Chrysothemis clinging to the monstrous mother climbs into the ring. Asmik Grigorian, a “Salome” triumphant here two years ago, knows how to fire her high notes as flares, is vowel agile and sexy girlielike.
When she sings about her longing for the “female fate” of childbirth, she pulls her pink top down to the red bra. However, one does not really believe the two of them in their lust for murder.
Also because Franz Welser-Möst gets up late on the podium. Yes, it’s big, fat opera – finally, it’s getting loud! No collective can rearrange it so meltingly, ruggedly and harmoniously gracefully like the Vienna Philharmonic. But it is more proof of the effectiveness of the 111-year-old work that has not lost its anger, force and cutting precision.
A lot of blood for a swarm of flies
The Baumgarten wonderfully glides and glimmers in its real Klytemnästra singing scene. While the Orest put in a Norwegian sweater is irritating, the barefoot, the dagger on the ankle, steps. But Derek Welton sings him as voluminous as warm.
In the end, he is chased off the stage, silently pursued by the erinnies, who in the video on the rock wall eat up the virtually splashed blood as a swarm of flies. That remains as a weighty picture of a staging that is often only routine.