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A triumphant Elektra

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
04/21/2007 -  & April 27, May 1, 6, 10, 13, 16, 19, 2007
Richard Strauss: Elektra, opus 58
Susan Bullock (Elektra), Alwyn Mellor (Chrysotemis), Ewa Podles (Klytämnestra), Daniel Sutin (Orest), John Mac Master*/Alan Woodrow (Aegisth), Roxanne Rowedder (First Maid), Sonya Gosse (Second Maid), Lauren Segal (Third Maid), Melinda Delorme (Fourth Maid), Virginia Hatfield (Fifth Maid), Joni Henson (Overseer), Miriam Khalil (Confidant of Klytämnestra), Betty Allison (Trainbearer of Klytämnestra), Stephen McClare (Young Servant), Andrew Stewart (Old Servant), Alain Coulombe (Tutor of Orest)
Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (Chorus Master), Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Richard Bradshaw (Conductor)
Thomas de Mallet Burgess (Director), Sue Mythen (Movement Director), Derek McLane (Set Designer), Anita Stewart (Costume Designer), Thomas C. Hase (Lighting)

The COC’s new performing home opened last September with Wagner’s Ring and its success fully demonstrated that the company can, if it devotes the best available talent to a project, achieve results equal to the best anywhere. This Elektra is further proof. Since the company now has an orchestra pit capable of accommodating the 111 players required for a full-scale production, the decision not to stint has been born out. Not only is the sound as big and varied as one would want, it never overwhelms the singers. (What a contrast from this production’s inaugural showing in 1996, when John Crosby conducted Richard Strauss as if it were Johann Strauss.)

The singers are on the whole very strong, chief among them (as it must be) the title role as performed by Susan Bullock. She gives a total performance consisting of both voice and movement. Eva Podles’s voice seems made-to-order for the role of Klytämnestra - and the off-stage screams and groans are hair-raising. Alwyn Mellor makes for a very strong Chrysotemis, her voice rising evenly and powerfully to the precipitous heights of the role. Daniel Sutin is a straightforward, strong-voiced Orest, though his voice could use an element of mystery. John Mac Master doesn’t quite come into focus as Aegisth - perhaps because most of the short role is delivered from the rear of the stage.

The stage picture and movements support the expressionism in the music. The set has weird angles, nightmarish furniture, and high-octane colours (a nice contrast to the gloom that engulfs so many Elektras). We occasionally see the family in earlier happier days - father Agamemnon with wife and three children (two daughters and a son). There is an error here in that one daughter is missing - Iphigenia. She is not mentioned in Hofmannsthal’s libretto, but it was Agamemnon’s decision to sacrifice her (so the goddess Diana would give the Greek fleet wind to take it to Troy) that sparked the chain of retribution leading to his murder. (There is actually more of a back story: did you know that Aegisth, who helped Klytämnestra kill Agamemnon, had earlier killed Agamemnon’s father? Those ancient Greeks really piled it on!) The absence of Iphigenia notwithstanding, these glimpses from a happier past are a fine contrast to Elektra’s current frenzied, feral state.

The chorus is placed in the theatre’s topmost ring as they hail Orest and the result is a cathartic release after the knotted turbulance of the earlier music. The same choral placement was used earlier in the year in Gounod’s Faust - the result is wonderful.

All in all, a gripping evening at the opera.

Michael Johnson



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