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Canadian Opera Company’s Elektra: a triumph of dramatic intensity!
The turning-point of the opera comes with the arrival Elektra’s brother Orest, played by the German bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer in his COC debut. The beautiful longing in the lyrical singing and lush orchestration as Orest and Elektra recognize each other created one of the truly touching moments before the finale with its two murders (off-stage) and the dance of madness and death of Elektra herself.
Bullock is a veteran of over 18 Elektras according to Joseph So of Ludwig Van Toronto who interviewed her prior to the current run. In fact, as he told it, she played the role of Elektra opposite Goerke as Chrysothemis in 2007 when COC conductor Johannes Debus conducted the work for the first time. She is a menacing Klytämnestra. Her pathetic request for Elektra’s solution to her dreams turns to uncontrolled laughter when she is told of Orest's death. The three voices complemented each other vocally and dramatically with strength and vulnerability.
Christine Goerke as Elektra and Schwinghammer as Orest in the Canadian Opera Company’s Production of Elektra (2019)Photo credit: Michael Cooper
Have you ever felt uncontrollable fury? Have you ever felt so deceived by a family member such that it was seemingly impossible to let go of the bitterness? Before letting the betrayal eat you up until you are obsessed with revenge, perhaps you should go quickly to the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra, the opera currently playing at the Four Season’s Centre.
Now, not many of us have seen our father murdered by our mother, our brother sent away in exile, while we ourselves have been held in house-arrest and indeed forbidden to have children who might force a hostile takeover of the kingdom. This is where Elektra found herself. From the classical Greek mythological stories of the Trojan Wars, Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal have told the story of Elektra’s mad obsession with revenge. She and her brother Orest found retribution by killing their mother, Klytämnestra and her new lover, Aegisth. The result was Elektra’s own demise.
This production, directed by James Robinson with sets by Derek McLane, costumes by Anita Stewartand lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin, is nothing if not the most intensely dramatic work the COC has produced in recent memory. The set representing a courtyard in the home of Elektra’s family is on a severely raked stage with few adornments: a bonfire, broken furniture, crates, photos of Agamemnon, an old childhood rocking horse and the entrance to a cellar. Klytämnestra and her lover are clearly getting rid of all memories of Agamemnon, the artifacts of her former life filled with memories dear to Elektra. The costumes and props establish the setting as late 19th century Europe. The stark lighting of reds and blues, together withwhite spots added to the psychological power of the story.
Susan Bullock as Klytämnestra and Christine Goerke as Elektra in the Canadian Opera Company’s Production of Elektra (2019)
Photo credit: Michael Cooper
German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade plays a vocally solid drunken cigar-smoking Aegisth with plenty of character. An often-heard singer with the COC (as well as the great opera companies of the world), he is no stranger to Strauss operas with recent performances in Arabella, Die Fledermaus, and Capriccio.
The orchestra came as close to stealing the show as one could ever imagine. From the opening thunderous chords, the huge orchestra of about 100 performers had an emotional impact that was as riveting as the action on stage. With Strauss’s combination of post-romantic harmonies and modernist sound on instruments like heckelphones, Wagnerian tubas and celeste, Johannes Debus used the full range of colours and volume to create a masterful performance.
Canadian Opera Company’sElektra will continue its run at the Four Season’s Centre on February 12, 16 and 22.
Christine Goerke as Elektra and Michael Schade as Aigisth in a scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra(2019)Photo credit: Michael Cooper
Erin Wall as Chrysothemis (foreground) and Christine Goerke as Elektra in a scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra(2019); Photo credit: Michael Cooper
Christine Goerke as Elektra (at left) in a scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra (2019)
Photo credit: Michael Cooper
A scene in the Canadian Opera Company’s Production of Elektra (2019)
Photo credit: Michael Cooper
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 10th 2019
The cast was close to the consummate ideal. Christine Goerke was brilliant both in her acting and singing. Her voice projected over the gargantuan orchestra (more about the orchestra later), regularly singing in her upper range and having to belt out numerous high B flats and high Cs in one of the most demanding roles of the entire operatic literature. She was a force on stage for the entire opera except the first few moments when maids introduced her character as an insanely obsessed woman. From her opening aria, calling out for her father, her power was undeniable..
The trio of women in the opera, Goerke along with Erin Wall as Chrysothemis and Susan Bullock as Klytämnestra were the backbone of the production. All three are veterans of Strauss and Elektra. We saw Erin Wall two years ago in Strauss’s Arabella. In Elektra, she gave a convincing performance of the tender sister who wants to get on with having a family. Her vocal strength camethrough in her horrific announcement that Orest is dead. Her lyrical moments are as beautiful as could be imagined.