Opera and Classical Reviews

Prom 59: Elektra @ Royal Albert Hall, London

31 August 2014


Christine Goerke & Gun-Brit Barkmin(Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Christine Goerke & Gun-Brit Barkmin
(Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Warum geschieht mir das, ihr ew’gen Götter? (Why, eternal gods, does this happen to me?) asks Clytemnestra, only to receive a typically unwelcome reply from her steadily unravelling daughter; it’s hard to imagine how that horrifying family conflict could be more strikingly portrayed than it was at last night’s Prom. With the BBC Symphony Orchestra in superb form under Semyon Bychkov, the evening was gripping from the first question to the final despairing cry.

Christine Goerke, making her proms debut, presented Elektra’s madness with unfailing drama, yet she managed to make the character’s inwardness and tenderness emerge as well – this is not just an avenging daughter but a suffering woman. Goerke’s stamina is almost as remarkable as her unflagging projection, the phrases hitting home with almost frightening directness. She was well matched by Felicity Palmer’s definitive Clytemnestra – Palmer has truly cornered the market in the mad old bat / femme de nom department.

The role of Chrysothemis is in some ways the most challenging in the opera, given the more lyrical character of her music in the midst of all the clamour; Gun-Brit Barkmin, another Proms debutant, presented a warmly credible sister – it’s not surprising that Ellen Orford is prominent in her repertoire. Johan Reuter was a clarion-voiced Orestes, and there was strong support from the Aegisthus of Robert Künzli (unsurprisingly, a noted Peter Grimes) and Jongmin Park as Orestes’ Tutor. Miranda Keys made her mark as the Overseer, and among the Maids Hanna Hipp and Zoryana Kushpler stood out.

The BBC SO always seem to play with particular responsiveness when Semyon Bychkov is on the podium, and this evening was no exception, Strauss’ orchestration ringing out in full glory. Justin Way’s direction had the merit of simplicity, and the only duff note was the lack of surtitles; not necessary for us, but they would have been a great boon in preventing the frequent outbreaks of programme crackling and origami practice from some members of the audience.

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