OP0100. ELECTRA (Johann Christian Friedrich Hoeffner), recorded 1992, w.Thomas Shuback Cond. Radio Stockholm Ensemble, Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble; Peter Mattei, Hillevi Martinpelto, Helle Hinz, Mikael Samuelson, Stig Tysklind, Klas Hedlund, Alf Haggstam, Mikael Samuelson, Christina Högman, Lage Wedin & Sven-Erik Alexandersson. (Sweden) 2-Caprice CAP 22030, wShipcase Edition w. Elaborate 68pp. Libretto-Brochure in Swedish. Final Copy! - 7391782220308
“Perhaps most famous as founder of the great musical traditions of Uppsala University, Johann Christian Friedrich Haeffner was a German (born a month before Handel's death) who studied in Leipzig, and after conducting in Frankfurt and Hamburg moved to Stockholm, where he eventually rose from singing coach and occasional viola player in the Royal Opera to become (still aged only 36) its Musical Director. Eight years earlier, he had been commissioned to write his first opera for the queen's nameday. This was ELECTRA, given in Drottningholm in July 1787; it was written to a Swedish translation of a French libretto after Sophocles that had already been used by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. Haeffner was even more heavily influenced by Gluck (whom he idolized) than his slightly older French contemporary; and the colourful orchestration (especially his use of trombones), the declamatory recitative, and indeed the shaping of some scenes, clearly reveal that admiration. Of special interest, too, is his employment of leitmotifs, which begins with the programmatic overture depicting Electra's thirst for Orest to avenge their father's murder, and the intervention of the Furies. (The similarity of key, mood and repeated cadential figures with the start of Mozart's DON GIOVANNI, premiered the same year, is interesting.)
For the 1991 production in Drottningholm, here recorded in the studios of the Swedish Radio a year later, various cuts were made, particularly of choruses, and Act 3 was compressed. Except in that part there is little stage action, so that all emphasis falls on the music itself; and from the very outset, where the Furies are urging Orest on (only to pursue him at the end of the opera) Haeffner shows a powerful dramatic sense. Much of the plot is played in a continually inventive, highly expressive orchestrally accompanied recitative that constantly flowers into arioso; and there are effective homophonic choruses, orchestral processionals and, at the close, an exciting mime for the Furies. Conspicuously rare, though, is any concerted singing (apart from the choruses) except for two duets, one in Act 1 in the scene between Electra and her mother, the other in Act 3, after Electra's thrilling cry of recognition, ‘Orest!’, between sister and brother; but there are a few striking arias, mostly for Electra, and in Act 1, but also one each for Klytemnestra and Aegisth in Act 2.
Thomas Schuback drives the work along with an unremitting instinct for its tension, securing crisp playing from the orchestra and well-drilled vigorous singing from the chorus; and he is fortunate in having at his disposal a cast so uniformly excellent, bringing clarity and meaning to every word and expressive nuance to every phrase, that it would be invidious to single out any one member. For me, the whole adds up to the most stimulating operatic discovery of the year. Gluck repudiated Lemoyne's claim, in his ELECTRE, to be his pupil: I think he would have been proud to acknowledge Haeffner's ELECTRA.”
- Lionel Salter, GRAMOPHONE