I grew up with the Solti Ring and Nilsson’s Immolation Scene still makes the hair on my neck bristle. The 1980 video recording of her performance in the title role of Strauss’ Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera really doesn’t have the same effect. The voice is accurate enough, there’s still a lot of power and the vocal acting is good but somehow the voice seems to have hollowed out and to lack resonance. Admittedly she’s not helped by the recording which seems to favour the orchestra over the voices fairly consistently. The other sopranos suffer from the acoustic/recording too but come off better and if Leonie Rysanek really had a high fever it’s not obvious. Mignon Dunn’s Clytemnestra is also well sung. The orchestra plays wonderfully for James Levine and gets much better treatment from the sound engineers.
The production (apparently by Herbert Graf with revival direction by Paul Mills) features a boring rocky wall with a sort of cave/gateway and minimum stage movement. It’s almost a misnomer to call it a “production”. Coupled with Brian Large’s incessantly close up camera work the effect is almost more of a concert than a staged performance. At least one can see the intensity of Nilsson’s performance even if a lot of the time the acting range is limited to stock gestures. At least in that respect she’s better Donald McIntyre, the Orestes, who seems to have graduated from the cardboard cut out school of opera acting.
The picture quality is fairish and it’s 4:3 aspect ratio. The sound was originally stereo but has been remastered for surround (DTS and Dolby) using DGG’s proprietary process. As noted it’s kinder to the orchestra than the singers. There are German, English, French, Spanish and Chinese subtitles. The trilingual booklet features track listing, synopsis and one of those sycophantic essays that the Met likes to commission about “favourite sons/daughters”. The 50 odd minutes of bonus material are in the same self-congratulatory vein.
It’s a shame that we don’t have a record of Nilsson in this role at the height of her powers and in a better production.