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Richard Strauss: Elektra
Richard [1] Strauss, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Salzburg Vienna Philharmoniker
Richard Strauss: Elektra
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #2

Strauss's shocker gets an appropriately shocking performance, live from the stage of the 1957 Salzburg Festival. Inge Borkh was a superb Straussian, and her Elektra is riveting, sung with febrile passion. Jean Madeira's ...  more »


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Strauss's shocker gets an appropriately shocking performance, live from the stage of the 1957 Salzburg Festival. Inge Borkh was a superb Straussian, and her Elektra is riveting, sung with febrile passion. Jean Madeira's Klytemnestra is in Borkh's league, and Lisa Della Casa's somewhat cool Chrysothemis isn't far behind. The men are right up there with them, but it's the conductor who stars. Dimitri Mitropoulos drives a volcanic performance, full of dramatic thrust and inevitability that captures the surging lyricism and yearning of the characters. He even brings out the black humor of Aegisthes's return home as few others have. The mono sound is good enough not to get in the way, but if you must have stereo, there's always the Solti. --Dan Davis

CD Reviews

Which recording of Elektra to choose?
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 02/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Out of the available versions of Elektra released over the years, I chose four to compare. They include a stereo blockbuster from Solti on Decca and a harrowing live performance under Mitropoulos on Orfeo. If you don't want to read about the comparisons, these two can be recommended without reservation. Here are the relevant pluses and minuses for anyone who wants more information:

Mitropoulos 1957: Austrian Radio released the official tapes from the Salzburg Festival after decades of pirate recordings circulating in various degrees of awful sound. The tapes are mono, a bit boxy and dry, but quite serviceable. Mitropouls made a specialty of Elektra, and he finds more musical variety than any rival; even if you know the score very well, he offers surprises all along the way. Tearing the score to shreds if need be, Mitropoulos brings us closer to tragic catharsis than perhaps even the composer himself could have imagined. Inge Borkh follows suit with a portrayal that's almost too painful to bear; she owns the womanly, suffering side of the role and its tender dimensions, which Nilsson eliminates. Lisa della Casa sings with great beauty and charisma as Chrysothemis, and Jean Madeira makes for a nightmarish Klytemnestra. I wish the men had been stronger. Krut Boehme's cavernous bass, suitable for Fafner, sounds too old for Orestes to be Elektra's brother, and his portrayal is orotund, to be point of pomposity. Even so, this is an indispensable version, now in best sound.

Bohm 1960: Since I am a non-fa of Karl Bohm, it's a relief to discover that he conducts very well here in a studio Elektra fronm DG. He gets electrifying response from the Dresden Staatskapelle, and DG's close-up sound is still vivid. Inge Borkh repeats the title role, in just as good voice as before but not exhibiting that extra dimension of tragic humanity that Mitropoulos inspired; one also notices under studio conditions that her powerhouse dramatic soprano is rather leathery and unattractive. Jean Madeira is back as Klytemnestra, but Marianne Scheech falls short of Della Casa as Chrysothemis--not a great demerit since nobody on disc equals her. The only great improvement over the Mitropoulos version is Fischer-Dieskau as Orestes, free of mannerisms, singing with total conviciton, and dramatically magnetic.

Solti 1967: When this sonic blockbuster first appeared, critics were stunned. Birgit Nilsson commands the role vocally as never before, or since. Solti applies his patented shock treatment to the score. The Vienna Phil. plays like gods, and Decca has caught the whole proceedings in state of the art sound. This recording went through a rocky patch with a shrill early digital issue in the 80s but has now been refurbished and has the same visceral impact as the original. Marie Collier sounds trembly as Chrysothemis but all the more vulberable for that. For me, Tom Krause offers a perfect performance as Orestes, his gorgeous bass voice at its best. Nilsson misses the tender, womanly side of Elektra, but what she lacks in poignancy she makes up for in power and accuracy.

Ozawa 1989: After Solti, the recording companies packed up their tents and went away for 20 years until Philips released this live Elektra from Boston (now on a budget Decca line). It sitll stands up as the best bargain set, even though nobody is in best voice, or even the right voice. Hildegarde Behrens hasn't got the heft to sing a convincing Elektra in the oepra house, but her gleaming top notes and emotional force go a long way in a concert reading. The great Christa Ludwig, well advanced in years vocally, isn't grim or hard enough for Klytemnestra, but it's wonderful to hear her try. Everyone else is medium-good, the real star being Ozawa and the BSO, captured in excellent sound. Ozawa is the anti-Solti, making the opera sound more intimate and less frightening--this is almost chamber music in his hands.

I've tried to offer an objective comparison of four excellent versions. The title role is so demanding that there are few competitors on CD, and no serious ones since 1989 despite very good tries by Sinopoli and Barenbim; one should also check out Leonie Rysanek on various pirate lables--she managed over the years to sing all three femaile roles. But although lacking in quantity, Elektra recordings have been outstanding in quality.

P.S. Feb. 2010 -- Since writing this review, I've come across Orfeo's reissue of Karajan's fabled1964 performance. Like the one by Mitropoulos, it comes from the Salzburg Festival and stars an electrifying Astrid Varnay, who takes possession of the stage as fiercely as Borkh. Please see my review for details."
madamemusico | Cincinnati, Ohio USA | 07/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have been searching for a great recording of Strauss' Elektra for years, but eventually concluded that there was no such animal and so opted for the Seiji Ozawa recording with Hildegard Behrens (in pretty awful voice) simply because Ozawa's conducting was so intense, as was Behrens' vocal acting. But this recording has turned me around. Recorded live at Salzburg in the summer of 1957, it is possibly the ONLY recording that captures Inge Borkh's huge, diffuse, difficult-to-record soprano effectively. (Borkh's commercial release of the opera, conducted splendidly by Karl Bohm, was so bad that she had misgivings about approving it for release--her voice sounds thin and shrill in it.) Even more surprising are the highly-charged dramatic contributions of Lisa Della Casa, Kurt Bohme and even Max Lorenz, all riveting in their interpretations.

But the real cement that holds this performance together is the absolutely phenomenal conducting of the late Dmitri Mitropoulos. Bringing all the woodwinds forward to his right and conducting this immensely difficult score from memory, a la Toscanini, Mitropoulos gave here what was possibly the finest opera performance of his life. He not only infuses the Vienna Philharmonic with savage fire, but manages to bring out the lyrical qualities of the score as well--an accomplishment that Solti, for all his wonderful qualities, seemed unable to do. With such power and lyricism pouring out of the instruments, the orchestra effectively becomes another protagonist in the drama, just as it is in Salome and Daphne.

I would also like to commend the anonymous Austrian engineers who recorded this performance. If one is not listening too critically, one might be fooled into thinking that this is in stereo sound, though it is not...that's how good the audio quality is. Absolutely NOTHING is lost in either musical or dramatic impact; this is easily a first-choice recording if you want to experience Elektra in all its savage beauty."
gypsychorus | MA, USA | 01/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Yes, riveting is an understatement. This is a performance of cataclysmic proportions. Mitropoulos was a genius."