It's hard to imagine confirmed Straussians not wanting this starry Metropolitan Opera performance of Elektra. Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannstahl, transformed Sophocles' take on Homer's tale into a harrowing opera noir. Elektra lives for one reason, to kill her mother, Klyt?mnestra, and her stepfather, Aegisth, the murderers of her father, Agamemnon. In contrast to Elektra's vengeful obsession, her sister Chrysothemis desires to get on with life. When their long-missing brother, Orestes, returns to do the deed, Elektra celebrates with a dance of death and, her sole purpose in life fulfilled, dies. Strauss joined the hermetic plot to music of the utmost opulence, violent and yearning by turns, evoking the cardinal principles of Greek tragedy - pity and terror.
This Met performance from February 1980 is notable for the playing of the orchestra, itself a major factor in any performance of Elektra, and for the three female leads. James Levine's conducting is full of passion, lyrical when it needs to be, but crushingly powerful in the big moments. Strauss' orchestration sometimes becomes chamber music-delicate, eloquently done by the orchestra. Birgitt Nilsson and Leonie Rysanek were the leading Elektra and Chrysothemis of the day. Nilsson was in her 62nd year, still singing well, even in such a demanding role that taxes singers half her age. But despite small signs that she's husbanding her vocal resources and hints of wavering pitch that indicate tiring, she gives an overwhelmingly intense performance. The booklet notes say that Rysanek was ill with a 102 degree fever, but there's no indication of it in either her singing or her passionate acting as. Mezzo Mignon Dunn, the Klyt?mnestra, was a Met mainstay for 35 years, and if she lacked the superstar status of Nilsson and Rysanek she more than holds her own here, virtually dominating the stage in her scenes and fully capturing the character's pain and frustration. If the men are not quite up to these three formidable ladies, that's par for the Elektra course.
The single set is of the dimly lit palace courtyard, identifiable as a place where bad things will happen. Herbert Graf's production and Paul Mills' stage direction are conventional, unimpeded by directorial novelty or conceptual misfires. Brian Large's video direction is not as effective or polished as his other Met productions; some moments obscured by darkness, others subverted by too-tight close-ups. The sound is also below the best that could be achieved in 1980, but good enough to do justice to the singing and the orchestra. --Dan Davis
GREAT THEATE Both Nilsson and Rysanek (sick and with high fever) are not in their prime, but WHAT a great piece of THEATRE! Nilsson's involvment in this role is overwhelming too such a degree that you can ignore that her voice sounds a bit worn. The public roars - and rightly so. If you want to experience Nilsson as one of the truly great actors of the operatic scene, buy this DVD at once. I was deeply moved and cried at the end.
great video...but the PERFORMANCE! ...............WOW! This is a landmark video of historical proportions. The cast is one that comes around rarely in one's lifetime, with some of the finest opera has to offer. Yes, Nilsson and Rysanek are fabulous, but Mignon Dunn takes my breath away. This is a special video for me because I was there in the house...it was Elektrafying! I had always heard about Nilsson's High C's, but her opening lament was like a railroad spike through my chest. This opera is Strauss at his best, and he couldn't have asked for a finer cast!...more info
Some corrections to prior postings I thought I would add some corrections:
1. this performance was not Nilsson's return to the MET after a five year absence. Her first Elektra in 1980 was on February 1 and this recording is from February 16.
2. this performance was not "cut" due to her vocal condition but observes the standard cuts the MET has always followed. There never has been a note complete perfomance of Elektra at the MET (and rarely at any other opera house and on few recordings)
3. This was not Nilssons last fully staged opera performance at the MET -the following year (1981) she sang some performances of Die Frau ohne Schatten singing the Dyer's Wife....more info
excellent the best elektra on video...how moving. I have been watching this many many many times and still enjoy Nilsson / Rysanek team...especially in the final duett. When Rysanek bow for her last note, I cried and realized that she is not with us anylonger...gone with elektra....more info
Stunning Document of a Memorable Occasion This performance of Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera is a wonderful momento of Birgit Nilsson's final performance in a complete opera at the MET. The matinee performance of February 16, 1980 proves visually what recording afficionados who own Ms. Nilsson's recording of Elektra have known for years: Nilsson is without competition in this role. Granted, this performance is late Nilsson and there are some pitch problems as well as some straightness of tone in alt -- small flaws in an otherwise shattering performance. Leonie Rysanek is said to have had a fever of nearly 102f that day, but as a favor to her esteemed collegue, went on anyway to give an equally committed performance. I cannot recommend this video highly enough. For those of us whose generation knew Birgit Nilsson to BE the greatest Elektra of her time, this DVD must make it's way into every serious opera collector's collection. Mignon Dunn is in fine voice as Klytemnestra and acts the role with great depth of emotion and character without caricature. Add the superb playing of the MET orchestra under James Levine -- and how can you miss. If only Miss Nilsson's Salome and Dyer's Wife in Frau Ohne Schatten had been committed to video as well. Buy it, buy it, buy it!...more info
I wish it had been better For me, Strauss' tale of ghastly family dysfunction has always been an opera better heard on record than seen in the opera house. Its hysterical atmosphere and bizarre characters, while providing tremendous opportunities for singers to display their power, range and stamina, also seem to encourage overacting and hamhanded emoting. Such is the case here. Mignon Dunn as Clytemnestra is the least offensive and actually delivers some truly beautiful singing. But soprano Rysanek whose histrionic skills--for reasons completely unclear to me--were considered non-pareil delivers another ourtrageous performance with excesses that seem based on the worst excesses of the silent screen era. Donald MacIntyre as Orest sings decently but visually is just ridiculous. Nilsson is past her vocal prime but at least does not embarass herself as do her colleagues. To her credit she underplays much of her role allowing the fevered music to make all of the necessary points. Even so, without the benefit of aesthetic distance, the viewer can see a certain calculatedness to her movements, a quality that belies the out-of-control emotionalism that she is trying to portray. The star of this show is Levine whose conducting is all that that one could wish for. As I suggested earlier, there are certain operas that call for physical acting skills that are just beyond the abilities of the average and even great singer. Watch Renee Fleming's Blanche DuBois in Previn's "Streetcar Named Desire" for a recent example. While vocally they can be quite pleasing and even thrilling, the talent to translate their musical gifts into believable behavioral action is not always theirs to command. Unfortunately, I feel that many of we opera fans have learned to settle for and accept second rate and really rather silly exibitions as examples of great art. No wonder Callas seemed so revolutionary.
Overwhelming performance(s)! This Elektra took on legendary proportions before it was performed! The cast has not been surpassed although a broadcast several years ago with Behrens, Fassbaender and Voigt was also a compellng performance. I was at that perfomrance(also a matinee). I didn't have the good fortune to have been at the Nilsson Elektra. Dunn and Rysanek prove to be Nilsson's equals. What I wouldn't give for the likes of this cast today. The most emotionally draining performance on dvd. The word event is wasted on many mindless performances. This is an EVENT! Met orchestra and Levine perform out of their minds. The only word is superb. This belongs on every shelf in every opera lovers' home. That the audience carried on for over twenty minutes at the curtains fall tells you something. Buy it and don't loan it to anyone...........more info
Flawless and beautiful Elektra Thank you very much to the Met for this beautiful production, specially for the amazing Nilsson and his partner the incomparable Rysanek. You will enjoy every moment and every note. ...more info
A Real Keeper Nilsson's first stage performance at the Met after a five year absence, and it was worth the wait. And what a pleasure to see her teamed with her friend of many years Leonie Rysanek! A very moving performance that you'll return to often....more info
Terrific!!! I love Nilsson....her videos are always my collection........ and..this one is the best Elektra I 've ever seen!!...more info
Birgit is a HOSS...whew I'm usually the kinda rare opera person who is actually very annoyed with people who exult in the singers far more than they do the actual music they are singing, but Good GOD! Birgit Nilsson's Elektra is so outstanding that the opening monologue can actually captivate my 22-year-old fraternity brothers into taking a seat when they come over and I'm indulging my decandent musical tastes. Is there any greater praise for an opera recording than that? And yes, it is engineered VERY VERY softly, but if you have a DVD player, you probably have a stereo system to hook it up to, and for this DVD you'll definitely need it. But once its all hooked up, and the volume's up, and the curtain rises, GIT READY...the neighbors will holler, the dogs will howl, and you won't even notice because its all so fabulous. I can't imagine what an amazing night of theatre this was for those who were there live. The only thing that is even mildly distracting is the bad 80's production..I mean come on, those short-shorts on Orestes are NOT necessary. In spite of the soft sound and the fashion faux pas, the singing is magnificent, the acting is compelling, and the conducting from an old yawner like Levine is actually quite wonderful for once (I'm still cursing his name after that barky-bark, triple-chinned PBS Tristan fiasco last year). So get the DVD, indulge and enjoy, and light a candle for Ms. Nilsson so that maybe she'll incarnate again in some Germanic country REAL soon. We love you, Birgit!...more info
Elektra Phenomenal DVD! I've watched it 3 times since purchasing. I'm mesmerized by Nilsson's singing and acting...at age 62 in this performance. It's a real testament to her talent and abilities. Definitely glad I bought this. Should be in every opera lover's collection. ...more info
Simply wonderful Yes, everyone is past his or her prime, but this entire performance is endlessly compelling. Nilsson was already in her 60s, and age has made a few minor inroads in that incredible instrument, but her artistry and commitment are overwhelming. It's an exhilarating and shattering performance. I saw this live, and seeing this memento of it all these years later was a deeply moving experience. Highly recommended....more info
Genius Betrayed A brilliant production of a work of genius rendered hopelessly and utterly useless by unbelievably inept engineering. Imagine having to strain to hear Birgit Nilsson's expression of towering rage and despair in her powerful 'Agamemnon' monologue? (BIRGIT NILSSON of all people!!!) Barely audible enough to hint at what must have been a truly awedome and spine-tingling performance in the flesh. Left me hanging for more and very dissatisfied indeed....more info