John Neschling, artistic director of the OSESP, explains he chose to present Elektra in concert version because the combination of Hofmannsthal’s text and Richard Strauss’s music is powerful enough to produce a theatrical experience even out of the context of a staging. On reading these words, one could expect the sort of bombastic performance that follows statements like that, although there is nothing false about saying that. The point is that many a conductor who believes Elektra to be powerful music actually feels it important to help a bit the composer by an extra amount of brutality not exactly prescribed by the score. That was not Neschling’s case. He could find the right balance between rich orchestral sounds and the necessity of accomodating the needs of soloists, what is a key for the sucess of any performance of this work. Those nurtured in Solti’s recording with Birgit Nilsson might want a more incisive approach but Neschling could find optimal vertical clarity and reserved the full powers of his orchestra for the climactic moments. The OSESP was in top form, abounding in crystalline string sounds and offering accurate playing from the brass section.
The OSESP’s Elektra, Susan Bullock, is not exactly a dramatic soprano – she produces big top notes all right and has a large voice, but one sees she has to shift for another gear for the most exposed passages, when her soprano could sound rather colourless and gusty. In these circumstances, her stamina is truly admirable: I could say she ended the opera without any sign of fatigue – already something of a feat. What is beyond doubt is her musical intelligence – she has very clear diction (a rarity in this repertoire), expert word pointing and tone colouring and – when not hard pressed – her voice has a rather feminine and young (although not immediately pleasant) sound. Because of that, the long scene with Orest showed her particularly vulnerable and touching. Although the concert featured only a hint of stage movements, Bullock proved that she needs no costumes and sceneries to produce the complete experience – her dramatic commitment and sheer charisma worked the magic alone.
Silvana Dussman’s bright focused almost instrumental soprano produced the right kind of contrast in the role of Chrysothemis. Although her voice is some five inches below the the required jugendlich dramatisch soprano fach, her gleaming top notes did provide the necessary thrill. A beautiful performance. Jadwiga Rappé’s mezzo soprano similarly was a couple of sizes too small for Klytämnestra – she understands the role and deals with the difficult declamatory passages to the manner born, but both her extreme top and low notes were too modest for the occasion. As usual, Stephen Bronk was an exemplary Orest in his rock-solid Heldenbariton. Ian Storey´s tenor is heartier than we are used to hear in this part, but the angular writing of the part of Ägysth showed him a bit unfocused and uninteresting. Among the minor roles, mezzo soprano Adriana Clis caused a great impression with her sizeable dark mezzo soprano as the First Maid.