Elektra -- Metropolitan Opera, 12/10/09
Bullock, Voigt, Palmer, Nikitin / Luisi
When I say that debuting soprano Susan Bullock is missing the one essential thing required for an effective Elektra, I don't really mean the scope and force of her instrument. It's true that her voice can't happily cope with the high portions of the role and really only showed well in her actual recognition bit ("Orest! Orest!"), but I've heard worse sounds turn into more. No, what Elektra needs is to be the main character, to dominate the proceedings in some way (vocal or not) so as to make unmissable the raw nerves, near-hopelessness, and -- at the end -- pent-up joy from this princess' ten years of dogged, degrading, exhausting, all-consuming, and -- unmistakably, as we hear one of the servants proclaim at the start -- grand refusal to make peace with outrage (her father's cold-blooded murder and the usurpation of his kingdom). What's fatal is not the smallness of Bullock's voice but the smallness of her persona, lacking abandon and inner life in the character's expressions of extremity. Though (or because) well-schooled, she's just too much an untragic and unheroic vessel even to approximate this tragic heroine.
That said, Bullock is let down by a number of others in the production. First, I suppose, was stage director David Kneuss. Besides botching the recognition scene (and more on that in a minute), he or whoever it was who worked with Bullock on the dance bits failed to come up with something that didn't look unintentionally awkward (and most unrapturous) when executed by her.
Second was Evgeny Nikitin, the Orest. He sang reasonably well in yet another Rene Pape role (Pape sang the part with Schnaut and Voigt in the last Met revival), but his acting was from a different (and definitely not German) operatic genre altogether, and not a compatible one. Whatever one might think about his un-authoritative, skittish take on Orest on its own (it seemed interestingly to highlight the character's youth, but definitely lost an opportunity to compel compared to the more assured character Pape and Alan Held presented), it failed in its key purpose: he and Bullock generated about as little chemistry and mutual awe in the all-important recognition scene as one could have imagined.
And finally, Fabio Luisi. He drew out a wonderful and fascinating tapestry of sound from the orchestra, but if ever a cast and night called for the conductor to take command of drama and forward motion, this was it. He didn't: in fact he continued to give phrases and textures space, as if to heighten the contrasting impact of a mega-climax at the end. Of course no such climax happened. As with Kneuss, perhaps what Luisi was doing would have encouraged and enflamed a different cast, but by this opening he surely knew what he had.
Things weren't all bad, of course. Felicity Palmer was a gripping Klytemnestra and Deborah Voigt -- the Chrysothemis -- sounded better than she ever yet has with her new (post-fat) voice. But unless and until Luisi decides to make this Elektra run his show or Peter Gelb steals Katarina Dalayman from Sweden (is this her role debut tomorrow?), I'd avoid it.