Sweden has made a great contribution for the world of opera in what regards the fearsome title role in R. Strauss’s Elektra – Birgit Nilsson is reason alone to make the country proud. Among the world’ s leading dramatic sopranos in activity in our days, three names stand out: Nina Stemme, Irene Theorin and Katarina Dalayman. Theorin’s Elektra has received good reviews – she has sung the role most notably in Salzburg; Dalayman has been more prudent about hers, trying the role at home (first in 2009) before she takes it to the world’ s leading stages. Elektra is a testing role with difficult exposed acuti, one of Theorin’ s strong features, while Dalayman has a warmer and darker tonal quality that does not immediately suggest the voice for the role. Although I cannot really say that Dalayman’ s Elektra is an unmitigated success, it is a considerable success under the particular circumstances of a small auditorium and a sympathetic conductor.
The most immediately noticeable quality in Dalayman’ s Elektra is a healthy, velvety and round soprano that takes readily to legato and long lines. Although her high bs and cs require an extra push, they are loud and firm enough and she did not seem tired by the end of the opera. She does have a problem to pierce through in her middle register and, in fast declamatory passages, she fails to project efficiently. The general impression is not of hysteria, but of stateliness, what is not unwelcome in a work of classical inspiration. A drawback difficult to overlook is the fact that she had to chop her phrasing to accommodate her top notes, sometimes in awkward places - especially in the Recognition scene, where every high note had its value bluntly shortened (basically, she would hit them a couple of seconds later than what the score indicates). In the intepretation department, her Elektra scored many points in subtlety, with finely shaded inflections and clear understanding of dramatic development. Although she never seemed really feverish on stage, her derangement was convincing and finally quite realistic.
Emma Vetter’s soprano is pleasant on the ear, if a bit sugary and the voice could be more strongly supported and more sharply focused throughout the entire range, but for her firm, bright top notes. Although Marianne Eklöf’s mezzo is a bit light and high for Klytämnestra, her voice is spacious enough, her interpretation is sharply conceived and her stage performance quite gripping – it does not hurt either that she is musically accurate in a role often abused in name of theatricality. Marcus Jupiter’s voice still needs to mature a bit – at moments his Orest was powerfully sung, but there were other moments where he failed to project clearly. Magnus Kyhle’ s firm-voiced Aegypt was clearly enunciated – and the idea of showing him drunk makes sense in the context of the libretto.
I am not sure if Ralf Weikert deliberately had the house orchestra’ s string so recessed – the opera’ s most emotional moments sounded quite tame therefore. If the brass and woodwind could clearly be heard and Klytämnestra’s nightmare turned out particularly transparent (and also the singers’ lives were made quite easier), the sensation of detachment was a serious blemish in the development of a theatrical atmosphere. Sometimes, one had the impression of a well-behaved rehearsal, but somehow the second part of the opera seemed to gain in intensity and by the end it was almost but not entirely thrilling. Staffan Waldemar Holm’ s production is not helpful in what regards atmosphere, the stage is largely reduced – two wooden walls with a corridor between them leave only a few meters space for actors. All women but Elektra had light low-cut dresses, high heels and 1930′ s hairstyles and all men but Orest (who has an overcoat on) wore suits. Secondary roles were kept on stage far longer than in any other production I have seen, joining Klytämnestra’ s derisive laughter at Elektra. Although it all seemed like the low-budget version of successful productions from somewhere else, barred some semaphoric acting from all involved, the interaction between these singers is praiseworthy and some key scenes, such as Elektra and Klytämnestra and both Elektra and Chrysothemis were efficiently performed.