BSO Elektra preview


by Christopher Morley

Home to the CBSO, Symphony Hall hosts another of the country's great regional orchestras when the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra visits later this month, bringing a semi-staged performance of Richard Strauss's Elektra.
This presentation of the searing one-act opera follows the BSO's highly successful production of the composer's Salome in 2015, the last time the orchestra played in Birmingham.
"We were really delighted with Salome and received an incredible audience reaction -- and critical reaction -- to the performances both here and in Birmingham," Dougie Scarfe, Chief Executive Officer of the BSO tells me when I visit him at the orchestra's base at the Lighthouse in Poole..
"And like Salome, Elektra is a powerful work which works well in the concert-hall. All of the psychological drama is there in the music; the audience can see the orchestra and experience the incredible score, and that is the inspiration.
"Our chief conductor, Kirill Karabits, has a great love of the music of Richard Strauss. He spent three years as Music Director in Weimar, where Strauss was before him, and he feels a great affinity with this music. of course, we wish for our orchestra to be playing all the great works, and Elektra is one of the greatest. It seemed like the logical next step after Salome."
Dougie's enthusiasm for operatic work is born of his own operatic experience, having worked for the Leeds-based Opera North for 23 years, first as principal horn in the ON orchestra, then as a manager, and then a director.
"I was responsible for the opera in the concert hall programme, with works that we couldn't host in the theatre," he tells me.
"Certain pieces work extremely well in the concert hall, and with a light concert hall staging, which is what we are going to do. We have a terrific director, Gjeerte Boeden, who has worked with Catherine Foster, our Elektra, which is great. Given the relatively short rehearsal time that you have, compared with a theatre production, it's important that the director is able to work effectively with the singers, and really bring those great moments and clarity to the story.
"Working to create an atmosphere, getting a sense of where the story is without oodles of props and lighting is key to getting it right with a concert staging."
We turn to discussing Catherine Foster, the Elektra in this performance, and one of the world's most sought-after Wagnerian (not least as Brunnhilde, a role she has sung many times at the Bayreuth Festival) and Straussian sopranos. And here I have to declare an interest, having taught her in various theory and performance subjects at Birmingham Conservatoire (many years before it became Royalised) while she was an undergraduate, still moonlighting at weekends back home in Nottingham as a midwife, her original profession.
How did the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra come to select Catherine for the title-role?
"Catherine and Kirill met in Weimar, working on a Wagner project, and they built a very strong working relationship immediately," Dougie explains.
"We invited Catherine to sing Mahler's Fourth Symphony with the Orchestra as few seasons ago. It was clear to me that they worked brilliantly together, but also that we had this wonderful opportunity with this wonderful singer -- a superb British soprano singing on the world's greatest stages --who for some inexplicable reason hadn't been singing opera in this country for nearly 20 years.
"She has a wonderful Birmingham connection, having studied at the Conservatoire, and it just felt absolutely right to build the cast around Catherine."
There always seems to be the perception (which I share) that the national -- in other words -- London press seem to be obsessed with the orchestras of their own metropolis, but Dougie disagrees with me.
"It doesn't feel like that to us! Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra has always enjoyed great relationships with both regional and national press. We also broadcast regularly on BBC Radio3 and Classical FM, who both talk passionately about our work across the southwest.
"It's a particular feature of the UK that its orchestras outside of the capital city seem to be playing not only at the highest level, but each with their own unique and special in-depth engagement with the communities they serve.
"This drives our work, and it keeps it interesting!"
And Dougie ends with a greeting to us in Birmingham: "We're absolutely thrilled to be bringing Strauss' Elektra to the great Symphony Hall, and I'm proud that we're bringing the BSO and a world-class cast to give the first-ever performance of the work at the hall."
*The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performs Elektra at Symphony Hall on Saturday March 21 (7pm). Details on 0121 -780 3333.

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