STRAUSS:  Elektra
Astrid Varnay (Elektra); Elena Nicolaidi (Klyt”mnestra); Irene Jessner (Chrysothyemis); Frederick Jagel (Aegisthus); Herbert Janssen (Orestes); Michael Rhodes (Attendant); Miriam Stockton, Edith Evans, Elinor Warren, Beverly Dame (Handmaidens); New York Philharmonic Orch/Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond. (rec. Dec. 25, 1949)  Astrid Varnay sings arias from Der Freischütz, Oberon, The Flying Dutchman, Cavalleria Rusticana, HÈrodiade, Manon Lescaut, Un ballo en maschera and Simon Boccanegra
GUILD GHCD 2213/14 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD) TT:  71:59 & 77:48

This broadcast of Elektra is considerably truncated with a break for an intermission—something unheard of today—perhaps the only time Strauss's masterpiece suffered such an indignity. Robert Caniell's fine—and profuse—notes provide detailed information about cuts including two cuts in Klytanestra's music totaling about 110 bars, and a major cut (about 52 pages in the Boosey & Hawkes score) of a scene between Elektra and Chrysothemis. In spite of this, one can easily agree with the statement by Olin Downes that this is "the most celebrated performance of Elektra in the last half century." After a slightly unsteady start Varnay was at her peak—and that is to say spectacular both vocally and dramatically. Elena Nicolaidi's Queen is magnificent; how unfortunate that so much of her music was excised. Irene Jessner's voice doesn't have the sound we expect for Chrysothemis; she seemed rather overparted for the role, but others in the cast are excellent. Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic whip up a frenzy of excitement throughout, and Guild's remastering is quite natural in sound. CD II is filled with a group of arias recorded in Varnay's prime originally issued on budget Remington LPs. Most are conducted by Varnay's husband, Hermann Weigert (misnamed in the notes), with the exception of the two lengthy excerpts from Simon Boccanegra in which she is joined by Richard Tucker and Leonard Warren, obviously from a Met broadcast but not so identified.  No one would pretend that Varnay is ideal for Santuzza or Manon Lescaut, but everything else is memorable in spite of poor orchestral playing.  No libretto, but a synopsis of the action. Elektra has 27 cues and includes broadcast commentary which adds to the sense of occasion.  Recommended, particularly at mid-price.!

R.E.B.  (July 2002)