In review: Elektra Agnes Zwierko as Klytemnästra and Lise Lindstrom as Elektra. Photo: Yves Renaud.

In review: Elektra

Jenna Simeonov

L’Opéra de Montréal is in the middle of a four-show run of Strauss’ Elektra, the opera that I’m still waiting to see as a double bill on steroids with Salome, for a full night entitled, Women Who Behave Horrendously.

It was a thrill to watch Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct Strauss’ delicious score with the huge amounts of energy he brings. He became somewhat of a meta-principal character in the show; it seems appriopriate, since the music speaks so much detail in this story of revenge.

Alain Gauthier’s production was stark and sterile, given life by an enormous statue of a man, a stunning design by sculptor Victor Ochoa. Gauthier’s Elektra is an installation artist of sorts, welding this statue in the likeness of her murdered father, Agamemnon; she captures the late king’s last moments, as he crouches, almost cowers against the axe coming to hack him up.

Lise Lindstrom as Elektra. Photo by Yves Renaud.

In the title role, soprano Lise Lindstrom was a strong, black-sheep type, with a silvery focus to her sound; her voice always stood out among the many female voices in this show. Elektra is a marathon for any soprano, so I understood why we heard technique more often than drama. I was missing the abandon in Strauss’ music, the reason why Elektra says all of her strange things, and why the music comments on specific details in the dialogue, with those tiny hints at the Totentanz to come. Similar was soprano Nicola Beller Carbone’s singing of Elektra’s sister, Chrysothémis. Carbone had an impressive range in her voice and some notably beautiful moments. Physically, I found her bound to her technique. For both of these sisters, I felt like I didn’t get a chance to figure out who they were, and how they interact.

As one of my favourite ladies of Strauss operas, mezzo-soprano Agnes Zwierko was fantastic as Klytemnästra. She had all the rich low notes we want from this evil-mother character, and she made great use of her dramatic lines and their melodramatic setting in the music.

Other standout performances for me included tenor John MacMaster as Aegisth. He had that perfect sound for those Strauss tenor roles, the bad guys who don’t know they’re bad guys. He had a great command of the German text, and allowed it to work with the music. Bass-baritone Alan Held was extraordinary as Elektra’s believed-dead brother, Orest. I couldn’t get enough of his rich sound, and I loved what he did with the music between his lines. Elektra also calls for a large cast of small roles, and tenor Isaiah Bell (A Young Servant) was a notably strong presence for his short time onstage. His voice rang impressively in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, and he was a sonic breath of fresh air.

The statue of Agamemnon, by sculptor Victor Ochoa. Photo by Yves Renaud.

The action and the music seemed to be telling two different stories in this Elektra. There are a lot of directorial hints in Strauss’ music, telling characters when and how to move, and many of these hints weren’t taken by Gauthier. Elektra’s argument with her sister includes a lot of lines like “Let me go!” and “I’ll never let you go!” The scene felt drab, because Elektra and her sister were mostly not touching. The singular set wasn’t in itself problematic, but the music calls for much more action than we saw in this production. Luckily, Nézet-Séguin filled in plenty of those duller gaps with blazing energy and intention.

One final note, small as it may be: the surtitles were poorly edited. L’Opéra de Montréal offers bilingual titles in French and English, and the English translations often seemed a Google-translation from the French. Spelling mistakes, gender errors, and non-English punctuation conventions started adding up, and they took away from the show’s gravitas. It was a frustrating thing, considering the enormous amount of work the singers put into that text.

Elektra plays until November 28th at Place des Arts, Montréal. For details and ticket information, follow the box office links below.

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