OP3411. ELEKTRA, Live Performance, 10 Dec., 1964, Philharmonic Hall, NY, w. William Steinberg Cond. NYPO; Astrid Varnay, Regina Resnik, Phyllis Curtin, Walter Cassel, Arturo Sergi, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-1217.
“The Richard Strauss Centennial could have had no more eloquent or engrossing tribute from the New York Philharmonic than the concert version of his one act opera ELEKTRA, presented last night at Philharmonic Hall. The work, which lasted just a little less than an hour and a half with a few minor cuts, was performed with such spirit that it had its capacity audience cheering on it's feet for 10 minutes at the last chord.
William Steinberg led with authority, urging the orchestra on to some shattering climaxes, yet he sought out places for the music to breathe and showed kindness to the singers in allowing them a measure of rhythmic freedom. But it was the singing of the principals that made the occasion engrossing. Astrid Varnay, who has not sung here since she left the Metropolitan Opera in 1956, handled the title role in a way few sopranos today could. Her big voice soared over the orchestral brasses, hitting pitches squarely, building overpowering crescendos and tapering loud notes off into a well controlled pianissimo. And her characterization, which was aided by her simple brown dress, which suggested the rags she might wear on stage, grew with the action. But she never resorted to the hysterics some recent Elektras have used. Her voice, not her hands, clawed the air. Her high point was in that tender scene where, upon recognizing Orestes for her brother, her wildness melted to grateful joy. And Walter Cassel was a good foil as Orestes; the Metropolitan Opera baritone blended determination with nobility.
Regina Resnik, who has made so much of Klytemnestra on the Metropolitan stage, lost little of her imperious characterization. Clothed in black with a high red collar, she was the evil Queen to her fingernails. Her singing was, as was Miss Varnay's, clear, honest and sumptuously full.
Phyllis Curtin was beautiful as Chrysothemis, visually and vocally. Dressed in a white gown, the tall, auburn haired soprano projected the sweetness and simplicity of the timid sister but made her believable and appealing as well. This was the American singer's first performance of the role, and she sang from the score.
The other singers were a credit too, with Arturo Sergi as a frightened Aegisthus, John Fiorito as his Tutor, and Margaret Roggero, Lillian Garabedian, Helen Rosengren, Lou Ann Wyckoff and Marybeth Peil as the serving maids. And credit should go to Martin Rich of the Metropolitan conducting staff, who prepared all the singers.
The last time the Philharmonic did ELEKTRA was with Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1958. Then an intermission was interpolated. One wondered how the Philharmonic audience would react to being trapped in their seats until 10:10 P.M., but apparently the force of Strauss' music in so fine a performance kept everyone happy.
Incidentally, the microphones on stage were not for amplification but were used to record the performance for broadcast Sunday, since there will be no Sunday afternoon performance. Sunday, the orchestra will play a concert for the winners of the Dimitri Mitropoulos International Music Competition, for conductors this year.”
- Howard Klein, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 Dec., 1964