R. Strauss - Elektra

 
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Customer Reviews:

  • Terrible
    I have seen Elektra many times (15-20, mostly with Birgit Nilsson, (but also many others) and I understand that it is a difficult opera to put on stage. But you should always let the music speak (I love it!) and it is not necessary always to exaggerate the darker musical happenings within the staging. This is a film I do not want to see more than once. It is terribly ugly, dirt grey althrough - and with very much overacting. There is BEAUTY in the score, you can see nothing of it in this scenery and direction. As for Ms. Rysanek, I do think that an artist who has not tried out her role in the opera house never should try it on film only. Varnay is grotesque in her overacting (yes I know that she has a grotesque role, but not like this, please), Only Catarina Ligendza gives some comfort. I think I must mention here that I greatly admire all these artists, Varnay - I just adore her - in Wagner, Ligendza (in Wagner), and Rysanek, in amonger other fields, Wagner and Strauss/Empress. ...more info
  • If all film could be this good!
    I first saw this film over 20 years ago on PBS (on a small TV with tinny sound) and was blown away, so you can imagine my delight when I saw it again last week on my new large screen set up with surround stereo sound. I can't stop watching!

    I have other recordings of Elektra, but this one is a sentimental and artistic favorite. It's especially touching to see Karl Boehm in the documentary on disc 2, in frail health and literally near death, give it his all and squeeze the very best sound out of the VPO. His body may have been failing, but his ear and mind were still sharp and this film is a testament to his true artistry.

    Highly, highly recommended!...more info
  • Astrid Varnay is a wonder
    She completly dominates this video. And her acting is never over the top considering the character or even her age where this is a new medium for opera and some of the stock opera poses look so out of place when viewed up close . I've read Varnay's biography and was surprised to learn she was an American and was a great Wagnerian soprano in the 40's and 50's singing the big roles, Isolde, Brunnehilde, etc. What an artist! And this video was recorded when she was no longer in her prime, whatever that is. I would have loved to have seen her then. Also, I'd like to add that an awful lot of nitpicking is done in these reviews and I think of the old adage: them that do sing, them that can't critique. We are so lucky to be able to enjoy watching and in our own homes operas which only 60 or so years ago was only for the elite. ...more info
  • Powerful as Music, Drama, and Film
    The previous review by Loki is quite informative, almost definitive. I have nothing to add except my personal endorsement. I'm a recent convert to admiration of Richard Strauss, but now I'm feeling the convert's zeal. It took the experience of watching and hearing this and other Strauss DVDs on a large HD screen with theater quality sound to convert me; that's my only "buyer beware"... you might enjoy chamber opera or Gilbert & Sullivan on a less-than-adequate system, but you need power to appreciate power....more info
  • Achingly close to a five.
    I would probably have to give this 4.5 in reality. I think the fact is I have been watching a lot of really top quality opera on dvd of late and thus the bar has been raised. On this basis i think this production just falls short because I think that Rysanek is not really a definitive Elektra. Sure, she gives it her all and for the most part is good enough but her singing is quite off at times - I know it's Elektra not Violetta Valery but it would be preferable if she had the capacity for beautiful singing; there are moments in this opera where it would be befitting. Rysanek is also too old and perhaps not physically right for the part, e.g., where the excellent Fischer-Dieskau as Orestes is lamenting her gaunt, skeletal look - well let's face it Rysanek is a bit on the chubby side here, not a porker but not skin and bone that's for sure.

    As difficult an opera as Elektra is to pull off, therefore, I have to say that the Strauss score is not quite perfectly complemented by the sense of wretched hatred and fear that I would have liked and that is primarily the responsibility of the performer of the Elektra character to evoke, admittedly no easy task!

    Still, that said, the staging by Gotz is excellent - some really nice touches and the use of rain and the effectively ashened skins of the 'corpse-like' people of King and Queen neatly promotes a feeling of death and decay. B?hm conducts well as expected and performances are generally strong; so, in general i would definitely recommend this version but to my tastes it is not definitive....more info
  • Achingly close to a five.
    I would probably have to give this 4.5 in reality. I think the fact is I have been watching a lot of really top quality opera on dvd of late and thus the bar has been raised. On this basis i think this production just falls short because I think that Rysanek is not really a definitive Elektra. Sure, she gives it her all and for the most part is good enough but her singing is quite off at times - I know it's Elektra not Violetta Valery but it would be preferable if she had the capacity for beautiful singing; there are moments in this opera where it would be befitting. Rysanek is also too old and perhaps not physically right for the part, e.g., where the excellent Fischer-Dieskau as Orestes is lamenting her gaunt, skeletal look - well let's face it Rysanek is a bit on the chubby side here, not a porker but not skin and bone that's for sure.

    As difficult an opera as Elektra is to pull off, therefore, I have to say that the Strauss score is not quite perfectly complemented by the sense of wretched hatred and fear that I would have liked and that is primarily the responsibility of the performer of the Elektra character to evoke, admittedly no easy task!

    Still, that said, the staging by Gotz is excellent - some really nice touches and the use of rain and the effectively ashened skins of the 'corpse-like' people of King and Queen neatly promotes a feeling of death and decay. B?hm conducts well as expected and performances are generally strong; so, in general i would definitely recommend this version but to my tastes it is not definitive....more info
  • Absolutely the definitive Elektra!
    This is absolutely the best Elektra you can see. Here's why:

    Leonie Rysanek is the incarnation of the tragic heroine, with a voice and feeling to match her acting.

    Catarina Ligendza is a beautiful, young Chrysothemis who is quite believable. Held prisoner by her sister's desire for revenge, she's tired, and longs for a "normal" life. She wants to become a mother--to live, before she dies.

    Although Astrid Varnay will mesmerize you with Clytemnestra's garish looks, her masterful singing and acting are dazzling. Her most evil laughter will not disappoint you.

    Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is, as expected, a fine singing Orest. But his shining yet antique Greek armor adds considerably to the aura of realism. The camera follows his feet, as he stomps up the stairs to powerfully right the wrong with which Elektra has been forced to live for years.

    The second disc is a 90 minute documentary on how this opera was produced as a film. It shows the rehearsal sessions with Karl Boehm, and extensive scenes where the film directors interact with the singer/actors. I was impressed by how much the direction improves the final product--attention to just where heads and arms are positioned, and how they coach the performers to be most effective in their acting.


    I am so happy that they filmed this as a film production, rather than as a film of a stage production. The close-ups help us meet the characters. They allow us to really watch the interaction between Elektra and Clytemnestra, as the daughter tells the mother just what sacrifice will be required. Their facial expressions would be impossible to see in a stage production, but the camera takes us up close to really get into the scene.

    Another example of this is in the dialogue between Elektra and Orest. You will never see a more moving interaction as the camera moves from one to the other. Next, there's a master touch, where Elektra sings, "and yet I was a King's daughter," and she scoops up a handful of straw, and pours it over her head, where it seems to form a sort of crown upon her filthy disheveled hair--a great dramatic touch which reinforces the shock and pathos Orest must feel at seeing the state to which his sister has fallen.

    Elektra is one of the most "underappreciated" operas we have. It is good to see it done here so very well. If I could have only a single dvd of Elektra, this would be my choice. I think you'll really feel you've stepped far back in time, and met the real Elektra.




    ...more info
  • A legendary performance
    I am not a big fan of opera made into movies, but this DVD is the exception. Everything is perfect. You couldn't have a finer cast, director, conductor, production - you want it, it's all there! I first purchased this ELECTRA on Laserdisc and almost wore it out. My DVD purchse is a back-up. Without hesitation BUY this DVD and go to opera heaven. I do object to what the DVD companies have been doing recently to opera DVD;s. ELECTRA runs only one hour and forty minutes. The whole thing could have easily fit on one disc. They split it onto two discs so they could hike up the price. Talk about greed. This opera should play all the way through without any interruptions. Sour grapes to the disc companies resorting to this practice. ...more info
  • Awesome Elektra!
    After reading a ton of reviews, I decided to buy this dvd presentation of my favorite opera. The sound is much more immediate than the Levine/Nilsson recording (thankfully).\ The orchestra plays this score so well. I enjoyed it as much as Abbado/Marton. Rysaneks singing is better than Marton.
    The singers vary from ok (Varnay-a noticeable wobble) to near great (Rysanek-what an amazing high register). At times, she goes high on some of the pitches. The staging and acting were excellent, even knowing it was lip synced.
    The only irritating thing was the number of screen shots of the actor that played Agamemnon.
    In all, this is well worth the money. In high quality stereo sound and performance.
    The extra dvd was quite interesting too....more info
  • Excellence
    Very quick turn-around. Order placed, order filled within two days. Amazing. Excellent recording, excellent quality. Seller is very dependable....more info
  • I will not watch this often
    I will not watch this film version of ELEKTRA often: it's too intense, relentless, and depressing, but it is captivating and excellent in every way. Leonie Rysanek, Astrid Varnay and Caterina Ligendza are all first rate, and the range of emotions - usually dark and mentally ill in Elektra (Rysanek)- are wide and varied. The acting, scenery and staging are also excellent, and really serve Strauss's rich, lush score. Music lovers who consider Strauss a conservative in an age when atonality and the Second Vienese School (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern) and Stravinsky were gaining popularity with the public should hear ELEKTRA: there are harsh dissonances galore, and some of the music is too much for me to handle unless I'm in a certain frame of mind. This is worlds away from DER ROSENKAVALIER, or his orchestral works ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, EIN HELDENLEBEN, or TILL EULENSPIEGEL's MERRY PRANKS.

    There is a 2nd disc showing in detail the making of ELEKTRA, Director Gotz Friedrich working with the principal singers, Karl Bohm rehearsing the Vienna Philharmonic for the soundtrack (begun in April, 1981, just 4 months before Bohm's death). This is very fascinating to me, and I am not authority on Richard Strauss or the plot of ELEKTRA. Thankfully there are subtitles in English for non German speakers like me. Bohm appears frail and unsteady on his feet, but he knows Strauss's score inside/out (Bohm and Strauss became close friends about 1935, and were so until Strauss died in 1949; Bohm became a champion conductor of Strauss's music, recording many of his opera and orchestral works.)

    Even though I will not watch ELEKTRA often, I am glad to have it. I hope DG will release Bohm's video film of Strauss's SALOME, with Teresa Stratas and Astrid Varnay, equally as intense and relentless as ELEKTRA. SALOME was on laserdisc and VHS formats in the 1992 DG catalog, and hopefully will come out on DVD in the future....more info
  • ABSOLUTELY PERFECT
    It is rumored that Birgit Nilsson was very disappointed when Karl Bohm chose Leonie Rysanek and not Nilsson to play Elektra in this film. Although I love love love Nilsson I have to agree that Bohm made the right choice because Rysanek is absolutely incredible as Elektra. God knows she was no spring chicken when she made this film (56 to be exact) and yet she literally tears the place apart with her incredible interpretation of Richard Strauss' demented Elektra. The voice is so solid, so dramatic and so damn perfect I can't imagine anyone singing it any better. The voice never wobbles and Rysanek holds onto the climactic high notes so effortlessly and for so long, that I am sure if Richard Strauss were alive he probably would have slapped Rysanek across the face and said "SHUT UP!!! IT'S TOO GOOD!!! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!!". Not to be outdone Astrid Varnay is so amazing as Clytemnestra that she almost manages to steal the show away from Rysanek, which is no small accomplishment considering she is, by my accounts, 64 years old. The film too in absolutely perfect. Probably the best film of an opera I have ever seen. It all works so well, IT'S PERFECT DAMMIT! I can't recommend this film enough but I imagine you already guessed that....more info
  • Good but wish it were better
    Although the orchestral playing is beautiful, Bohm, perhaps because of his frail health at the time of this recording (he died only months afterwards) fails to generate the febrile, slashing intensity of his pioneering commercial account of the complete opera twenty years earlier. In fact, he often sounds positively sweet and mellow, more as if he were conducting Der Rosenkavalier instead. Furthermore, the singing of both Rysanek and Varnay, as committed as they are, fall short in purely vocal terms, for Rysanek as Elektra sounds frequently out of tune and the sixty plus Varnay as Klytamnestra is clearly straining at times. However, I think the gloomy, rain drenched background that Friedrich as film director creates really suits the subject matter.
    Nevertheless, on strictly musical terms, I would recommend instead the earlier Bohm, which also has superior singing from Inge Borkh and Jean Madeira as, respectively, Elektra and Klytamnestra, or George Solti's classic 1960s Decca recording with the great Birgit Nilsson as Elektra, which has the same qualities as Bohm One, plus has the added advantage of presenting the opera uncut (what reason is there to observe stage cuts, which, after all, are for the benefit of singers performing in one stretch before a live audience, in a studio recording with its numerous takes). ...more info
  • Friedrich shows how filmed opera is also an art
    As an opera enthusiast, I tend to agree with those that argue that this is an art form that should be experienced live whenever possible. I am nonetheless grateful to those directors and producers who have committed great performances to video. Gotz Friedrich (and some other directors like him) are in an entirely different category, however. Friedrich has taken the multivarious art form that is opera/music drama - in this case, Strauss's masterwork Elektra - and introduced it to the film medium. And, in this case, he has done it to perfection.

    Elektra is not an easy opera to get right. It is a modern, expressionistic interpretation of Sophocles and, as such, demands not only great singers, but great actors. Freidrich had both in Leonie Rysanek, whose Elektra will knock your socks off. Watching her, one is amazed with what facility she communicates the detailed psychological patchwork of that tragic heroine, and manages the sudden shifts in mood and motivation. She is not merely an outraged spirt, caught up in single-minded pursuit of vengeance over the murder of her Father, but a woman who is all too aware of what she has sacrificed in the process. One sees this in every scene, but to get the full effect, watch Rysanek's Elektra as she awaits Orestes's dispatch of their Mother. In her face and voice, there is simultaneous determination and pain.

    Rysanek is well matched by an equally great Klytamnestra in Astrid Varnay (herself once a celebrated Elektra), who holds all the power as the opera begins, but is apparently vulnerable, chiefly because of unrelenting torment and fear of her son Orestes. Varnay gives us a debilitated, but highly dangerous, Klytamnestra, ready to strike out in any direction to end her nightmares. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. Indeed, it is not possible here to name all of their virtues. I was particularly impressed by Hans Beirer as Aegisth, the effete decadent, who is so obviously the partner in Klytemnestra's crimes. The scene where he questions and spars with Elektra, unaware that she is leading him to his death, is spine-tingling.

    Wonderful as all of these performances are, the real star here is Friedrich - and one should add quickly - Karl Bohm, the legendary conductor of Strauss operas. Together, in every frame of this terrific film, they honour the genius of Strauss the composer and of Hoffmannsthall the librettist/playwright. As he did also with Strauss's Salome, Friedrich shows how opera can be successfully treated in a cinematic medium (and there are plenty of examples out there of how this is done badly). In so doing, he and his performers have created a film that is guaranteed to move and inspire. Don't dare miss it.

    ...more info
  • Deserves 10 Stars
    Rysanek's performance is simply searing; the best Elektra to have been recorded. Varnay is up to Rysanek dramatically, but not, of course vocally. Still, she's a formidable Klytemnestra. The weakest link in the cast is Ligendza, who is a little underpowered as Chrysothemis and suffers, ironically, from comparison with Rysanek's many assumptions of that role (she owned the role for over 30 years). This is a wonderful souviner of one of the greatest singing actresses ever to grace the operatic stage. DO NOT pass this by....more info