The moon is spectral tonight and it seems fitting to talk about seeing the production of Elektra last night by the Canadian Opera Company.
I attended with some apprehension because frankly, I'm never sure how much outside madness I should allow to mingle with my own.
The little I'd heard about the opera was that the score by Richard Strauss is a largely dissonant one and dissonance is a word that's scared me in the past. This is not the Strauss who is synonymous with the Viennese waltz. My worries faded quickly as the orchestra was found in their typically excellent form supporting a fantastic cast on a beautifully lit stage in this tale of vengeance and woe.
Soprano Susan Bullock in the title role was absolutely feral in her display of grief and madness over the death of her father, murdered at the hands of his wife the Queen, and her lover. As she plotted the deaths of these two thieves of her joy, she gnarled, stomped, and danced consumed by the justice the act would bring. Onstage for the one hour and forty three minute production, at times with only her shadow for company, she sang her pain with force and conviction. The Queen, played by contralto Ewa Podles*, was spellbinding and in strong voice. Even as her character suffered from a mysterious illness, there was no mistaking the power of her commanding voice.
The other performers were excellent and well heard from, no small feat considering the powerful music which featured very few soft notes and no real arias. The score was dissonant yes, but powerful as it roared, chased and sustained. The full company chorus, unseen but filling the hall with their voices was an amazing testament to them and the acoustical bones of the opera house. Such amazing sounds.
Lighting for this production by Thomas C. Hase was mesmerizing as the shadows of the performers cast upon the sides of the sets seemed to reveal other aspects of their intentions. The set itself was confusing with its awkward tilt and a window high above the stage, its purpose not discerned by me. A small building on the stage, not unlike a doghouse, seemed an entrance point not befitting a Queen. No matter, this production earned even the respect of my friend Deborah who favourably compared it to the production she saw at La Scala last year proving that we must be somewhere on the map. It was an amazing experience. Bravi!
*Another memorable evening of opera that I spent with my crazily attired friend Cathy was brought to us courtesy of Ewa Podles in the 2002 production of Julius Caesar in Egypt. Ewa played the title role and was clad in a skintight leather trench coat which magnified her breasts to the approximate size of objects that can be seen from space. She looked like a Klingon in drag and as she began the several series of trills, her head bobbed like a chicken pecking at the air causing us to have to do the near impossible, stifle laughter that needed to be expressed. There were several other moments that conspired to make us laugh from the pyramids that shrunk in size with each act to dance moves that Deney Terrio would have been embarrassed to judge. Thankfully, we got ourselves under control each time and lived to laugh later. The saving grace of the production was my introduction to the amazing talents of soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian as Cleopatra. Oh what a night.
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