This final performance was one that those in the hall will remember and talk about for years to come. The opera, a few days after its 101st birthday, has not lost its ability to grip and not let go until the very last chords.
The minimalist production by the late Herbert Wernicke (first seen at the Bavarian State Opera in 1997) accents the anguished music, and the recording for DVD during these performances will preserve one of his finest achievements. Wernicke's original staging was recreated here by Bettina Goeschl (who worked with Wernicke on the original Munich production) with an effortless coherence. Even with a minimum of movement by the singers, there was relentless momentum to the drama.
Also extraordinary is the prominent role of the conductor in the mix. The Strauss-master Christian Thielemann scheduled this opera in concert during the Munich Philharmonic's season where he has been music director since 2004. This allows him to take his orchestra and cast to Baden-Baden where they had the loan of Wernicke's Munich production. With the music center stage and a leading Strauss conductor driving one of Europe's top orchestras in full flight, it was bound to be historic. The sweep and power of this music was never allowed a careless moment. For example, the recognition scene of Elektra and her brother - a veritable hurricane of music - was full of awesome power and yet maintained balance at the same time. It was an triumphant evening for Thielemann and his Munich colleagues.
And what a cast for this opera. In grand form, Linda Watson in the title role left no doubt as to why she is one of the most sought-after Wagnerian sopranos of today. Jane Henschel was perfection as Klytanestra. With high-voltage singing combined with a detailed portrait, her role was much more that the cardboard-cutout evil one normally sees.
A particularly affecting Chrysothemis of Manuela Uhl and the commanding presence of Albert Dohmen as Orest were also part of the stellar cast. Particularly welcome was the appearance of the grand tenor Ren_ Kollo as Aegisth, who, in this short role, recalled for many his decades starring on the world's opera stages. With the rest of secondary roles strongly cast, there was vocal strength in abundance.
Full details of the Winter season at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden are at www.festspielhaus.de
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All photos by Andrea Kremper.