Varnay's outstanding performance of Elektra with Karajan
Ha-De Nguyen | Paris, France (Europe) | 11/13/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Fabulous evening! Varnay here gives an historical performance in the tittle-role. Never has she sung Elektra like this before! In 1953 she recorded the role for the first time with Clemens Krauss after having left the part of Salome. The voice was already well suited to this much more difficult character but lacked something in experience. In 1964, the voice never sounds old but heavier after so many festivals in Bayreuth as Brünnhilde and Varnay was already singing mezzo parts like Herodias, Ortrud... With Karajan, she gives the performance of her life as Elektra with very well disciplined voice although one can prefer Inge Bork as the perfect incarnation of Elektra in the "wild cat" way. Mödl as Klytämnestra is fabulous. Her voice sounds all the contrary without any of the reflects she used to have when she still could tackle the dramatic soprano repertoire with Leonore, Isolde or Kundry. Compared to her recordings of the Nurse in the Frau at Munich one year before or as Waltraute in die Götterdämmerung at Bayreuth 3 years later, she even is more desastrous. But the typical accents she always gave to her characterizations here sound all the more pathetic. Hillebrecht as Chrysothemis actually replaces Rysanek previously cast (she was no longer working with Karajan despite their fabulous performances of the Frau the same year at the Vienna Opera as he wanted her as his next Salome that she refused!). Hillebrecht is only an Ersatz : she has a very fine voice indeed and is characterful enough but without any of the qualites or defects that have made the Austrian singer an international star. Maybe Hillebrecht still remains the best choice in the Karajan's view... Wächter is excellent but does not equal Fischer-Dieskau in this role. Karajan himself is sensational as he conducts a real tragedy that could have been from Orff rather than a true lyrical opera from Strauss. This already well-known live and mono recording is better remastered than ever but still dates from 1964 and therefore has some constrictions without the total atmospheric sound required for that opera."
La grabación de un acontecimiento teatral histórico
P. Emilio Rossi | Caracas, Venezuela | 01/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fue una verdadera suerte para todos los amantes de la música (sobre todo la de Richard Strauss) que se pudiera grabar esta representación en vivo del 1964. En esta grabación en vivo podemos apreciar al duo Varnay-Karajan en todo su esplendor. La relación artística de Astrid Varnay y Herbert Von Karajan no fue muy prolífica, ya que desde la Walkiria de Bayreuth 1951, y la Isolde de un Tristan und Isolde de 1952, no se habían reunido estas dos personalidades artísticas tan fuertes. Herbert Von Karajan dirige Elektra de una manera absolutamente impresionante. El sonido es magmático, denso y corpulento (tan diferente a lo que solía ser el estilo de Karajan, tan preciosista y refinado) La intensidad y fuerza interpretativa de la orquesta son impresionantes. El mismo maestro Karajan, le confió a la protagonista de esta grabación, Astrid Varnay, que esta partitura lo dejaba en tal estado de agotamiento físico, que no podría interpretar con frecuencia esta obra. Cosa, que por lo demas cumplió, ya que no dirigiría mas esta obra hasta su muerte. De allí el incalculable valor de este documento. La impresionante concepción dramática y orquestal de Karajan, se funde a la perfección con la visión que del personaje tenía Astrid Varnay. La voz de la Varnay, que era muy oscura, con poderosos y corpulentos agudos, se adaptaba muy bien a la escritura del personaje. Pero lo que hace aún mas grandiosa y única esta interpretación es el espeluznante fraseo. Todos los mas variados sentimientos presentes en la compleja escritura vocal de este personaje, están puntualmente interpretados por la Varnay. Desde las explosiones de sonido, en las escenas donde maldice a la madre Klintemnestra, hasta los sorprendentes efectos líricos del duo con la misma. De antología. Es cierto, que algunos agudos no tenían la seguridad de los de sus años de juventud (escuchar la versión Reiner 1952), pero el personaje había ganado en profundidad y grandeza. El resto del cast, gira entorno al dúo Karajan-Varnay, pero es de antología también. Martha Mödl es ampliamente conocida por todos los amantes de la opera y criticos musicales, por sus maravillosas interpretaciones de Fidelio, Parsifal, Tristan und Isolde y sobre todo por su muy original Brunhilde bajo la dirección de Furtwängler. Como klintemnestra, la ayuda mucho el registro central del personaje, por lo que no debe enfrentarse a una tesitura particularmente aguda, cosa que fue siempre el talón de aquiles de esta gran cantante y sobre todo en 1964, cuando ya no se encontraba en su forma vocal ideal; pero su interpretación desde el punto de vista del fraseo y del color vocal es absolutamente perfecta. Ella sabe expresar idealmente la majestad de la madre ofendida por los insultos de Elektra, como pocas otras intérpretes. Hildegard Hillebrecht es una lírica y radiosa Crisotemis, y como tal un ideal contraste con la tenebrosidad de la Varnay y de la Mödl, como en definitiva debe ser este rol. El de Crisotemis es el personaje mas sano y normal de la obra y debe apreciarse en el estilo de canto. Wächter y King logran cumplir acertadamente con sus respectivos personajes, el primero con su estilo elegante y refinado y el segundo con su voz redonda. En definitiva una versión ideal de Elektra, además de ser un acontecimiento histórico doble, en primer lugar por la reunión de Astrid Varnay y Herbert Von Karajan en una grabación, y en segundo lugar por contar con la versión directorial de Elektra por parte de Von Karajan. Junto con esta versión, habría que comprar la de Solti-Nilsson, y la Mitropoulos-Borkh, ambas versiones de estilo muy diferente a esta, pero igualmente grandiosas."
Elektrifying from the first bar to the last
The Cultural Observer | 08/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"How fortunate we are that one recording of Elektra with von Karajan on the podium has surfaced! The conductor himself vowed never to do this opera in the recording studio due to the emotional drain he experienced after each performance. This recording proves why!
Karajan in my opinion, is the perfect Strauss conductor after Karl Bohm. His Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Salome are simply stunning, and one would wish that he took Frau Ohne Schatten to the studio. His tone poem recordings bring out the lushness and richness in Strauss' score without mixing up the instruments in a cacophonic way that other Strauss conductors usually do. In this Salzburg Festival performance, he not only brings the dementia of Elektra in a most transparent and clear manner. He also brings out the lushness of the score without tangling the orchestra. It is both thrilling and touching, and if it is not as visceral as Solti's amazing Elektra with Birgit Nilsson, it is perhaps the most civilized. I consider it to be the best conducted Elektra ever, albeit the few cuts made in this and that portion of the score.
If Karajan was thought by others to be inadequate in terms of vocal choice, I think they should look at the cast in this performance. The Elektra is none other than Astrid Varnay. With the dark hue of her voice and her extremely precise musicianship, one could say that she is the perfect Elektra. She conveys the entire emotional palette that makes this role so difficult--the sorrow, the madness, the anger, the sadist, the sexual, and the thrill of course, that makes this role such a vocal killer. Amazingly, she hits all the notes dead on. Her Elektra may have been recorded earlier, but nowhere is it better heard than in this recording.
Her Klytamnestra is Martha Modl, one of the greatest dramatic/ character sopranos of the golden age of Wagner. She makes her Klytamnestra not only noble and sorrowful, but looney to an extent as well. It is a most compelling performance. Orest is sung by Eberhard Waechter, a perfect complement to Varnay's Elektra. The only member of this cast that does not seem to set the stage on fire is Hildegard Hillebrecht as Chrysothemis, but that does not matter if you have such an amazing cast."
An indispensable Elektra, vying with the greatest
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 02/14/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am as grateful as the other reviewers that we have a record of Karajan's Elektra, an opera that was among his favorites but which he abandoned after 1964. Orfeo's sound is an improvement on previous issues, but for broadcast mono, the sonics were always good. the voices don't wander off mike with rare exceptions, and the balance allows us to gain a reasonably good image of the Vienna Phil. (if only the recording had been done in stereo to capture more of their glorious contribution). Karajan's view of the score is searing and intense; he doesn't carry us into the realm of frenzied psychopathology the way Solti does in his famous Decca recording, also with the Vienna Phil. I wouldn't want to part with either, although it must be said immediately that Solti has the edge not only in sound but in his singing cast, with every role managed superlatively (with the exception of a frail Chrysothemis from Marie Collier -- her tremulousness could even be seen as an asset, however).
The version that this live 1964 performance competes with head-to-head is Mitropoulos in 1957, also from Salzburg with the Vienna Phil. and in reasonable mono. Both lead sopranos, Inge Borkh for Mitropoulos and Astrid Varnay for Karajan, possess the stage fiercely, as Elektra must. Tearing the score to shreds if need be, Mitropoulos brings us closer to tragic catharsis than perhaps even the composer himself could have imagined. Borkh had a leathery voice but made up in dramatic terror for what she lacked in beauty of tone. Varnay is stately and commanding more than mad. By this stage of her career, although only in her mid-forties, Varnay was a few years past her vocal prime. The voice was never beautiful, and at times she lunges at top notes that may or may not come off as written. Even so, her presence as a vocal actress is backed up with a powerful vocal range. (Earlier reviewers who hear perfect execution are living in fantasy land.) In both performances the supporting cast, all accomplished veterans, throw themselves into their roles. For those who complain of Hillebrecht's less than stellar Chrysothemis, I'd respond that Kurt Boehme's cavernous Orest for Mitropoulos is too old and ponderous to be Elektra's brother. It's as if Fafner wandered into the wrong opera.
Speaking personally, I find the Karajan version easier to live with, subtler in its musicality, far more disciplined in the orchestral part, and equally tragic. Here is arguably the greatest opera conductor of the century immersed in one of his favorite scores. He weaves the magic essential to a classic performance."
Hold on to Your Seat!
Steven Muni | Sutter Creek, CA USA | 02/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In her delightful autobiography, "55 Years in Five Acts", Astrid Varnay devotes an entire chapter to this production at the 1964 Salzburg Festival, and once you listen to the recording, you'll understand why. It was also the occassion of the mending of a longstanding rift between Varnay and conductor Herbert von Karajan. After the revived run the following year with the same cast, von Karajan let it be known that he felt that this production represented such an apex of quality in his artistic career that he never intended to conduct the opera again. And he never did. All of the roles are incredibly performed. Martha Modl, a great Wagnerian dramatic soprano, brings a searing intensity to the role of Klytamnestra. (Modl started as a mezzo, and in her mid 50s when she sang this production, had returned to mezzo roles.) The other leads, Hildegard Hillebrecht as Chrysothemis, Eberhard Waechter as Orest, and the great American tenor James King as Aegisth all do more than justice to their roles. But Astrid Varnay, one of the great singing actresses of post World War II opera, simply tears up the stage. Elektra is an incredibly intense role, and Ms. Varnay, of whom it was once said could dominate a stage just by sitting still, brings all of her ferocious talent to bear. Interestingly enough, some years later, when her top notes had gone, Varnay reinvented herself as a character mezzo, and among her top roles was Klytamnestra. But back in 1964 she still had all her vocal gifts, as well as her formidable acting talent and 23 years experience onstage. And it shows in her riveting performance of the title role. And don't forget von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. They play with a power and intensity that matches the level of the singing. A digitally remastered monaural recording, (why wasn't it done in stereo?), the sound quality is excellent for this live recording."