With a psychologically disturbed heroine and a score featuring Strauss’ most harmonically advanced music, Elektra lends itself to productions that take an anachronistic approach to its Mycenaean setting. Charles Edwards’ production, enjoying its second revival, combines reminiscences of ancient Greece with elements of European culture from the time of the opera’s premiere in 1909. The set, bounded by a frieze-adorned wall on the left and a glass screen at the back, features an antique desk, bloodstained floorboards and a revolving door.
The use of movement by Leah Hausman is highly effective, although it does have a slight over-reliance on having characters expressing angst by writhing around on the desk or the floor. The lighting design, by Edwards himself, makes good use of shadow, especially in the main scene between Elektra and Klytämnestra.
Elektra was given a thrilling performance by Christine Goerke, successfully maintaining her stamina in the face of the largest orchestra used by Strauss in any of his operas. Only in the recognition scene might a more relaxed tone have been welcome.
The role of Klytämnestra was portrayed with compelling insight, warmth and emotional advocacy by the Michaela Schuster. Chrysothemis, sung by Adrianne Pieczonka, absent from Covent Garden since 2002, had an element of detachment in her earlier scenes, but her performance became more involving as the opera progressed.
Iain Paterson, who was a notable Wotan in Das Rheingold at this summer’s Proms, brought nobility and authority to his portrayal of Orest. Among the minor roles, John Daszak stood out as Ägisth. The five maids were also in excellent voice.
The opera’s large orchestra, which spilled over into a couple of stalls boxes, was directed with compelling power by Andris Nelsons, albeit with the usual cuts the opera regularly suffers from. This opening night performance occasionally gave the impression of an interpretation not quite settled, the choral work in particular needing a bit more focus. The orchestral playing during the recognition scene was, however, surpassingly beautiful, and the opera’s closing moments rivetingly effective.