4/28/2007

It's Elektra-fying

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.

21 comments:

Writeprocrastinator said...

"Ewa Podles?"

Why that reminds me of when Michael Curtiz, the director of "Casablanca," asked for "poodles."

X. Dell said...

Ewa Podles played Julius Caesar? That sounds like an interesting interpretation.

Chromatic is probably a better word to describe late-Romantic opera. For dissonance, you really have to go to the Expressionist school. Any chance of hearing Pierot Lunaire duing the next season?

Dale said...

I can't get a handle on how to say her name WP so from now on, it's Poodles! I'm a bit scared of posting anything negative about her Klingon performance because she's still in town and could easily take me in a fight.

It was unusual X. Dell. She was so strong while the man playing her son sounded like a castrato and looked like Peter Pan.

Chromatic? I'll have to look it up. I really don't know much about music and opera and the terminology although I drink in the performances and critique away just the same.

There's no Pierrot Lunaire in the works. Next season looks to be a good one though. Our company only typically does 6 or 7 per year and the baroque opera company does 2. For the rest, it's recitals and the like.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love a little dissonance in my music sometimes, but generally that refers to guitars. Sounds like a grand performance. I love how you picked up on the shadow life at the sides.

Great review.

Coaster Punchman said...

George has seen this many times, and I not at all. Thanks for the review. Thanks also for the reminder of Deney Terio. It would have been tragic never to conjure up his image again.

Oh, and you've received yet another honor at CPW this morning.

chelene said...

Dale, it seems from your review that if I had your cast or you had my set we would have had the perfect Elektra. The Met's set had overturned horse statues and a long staircase leading to a wide entrance that made good use of shadow and sound. It was my favorite part of the opera.

Tenacious S said...

Aw, hell. I read the title to you post and now I can't get the Grease song out of my head. Thanks.

Dale said...

Thanks Barbara, nothing like a little of the dark side to work its magic on me.

I live to serve Coaster Punchman. As for the honour, what were you 'thinking'?

There was an upright rocking horse on stage but otherwise, the lighting had to do all the work. Let's get our productions together some time Chelene.

The hope was that I'd infect someone with that song Tenacious S. Someone has to give Naked Raygun a break from your brain!

justacoolcat said...

Sounds like a great show. I heard a bunch of the music a few years back mixed with some modern pieces because someone thought their "dissonant" nature mixed well. They were wrong, though the Strauss was fun.

The Freelance Cynic said...

My your such a cultured little thing aren't you.

Chancelucky said...

You know I've never heard a Strauss Opera. I actually have always loved his orchestral music particularly the tone poems like Don Quixote, Zarathustra, Till Eugenspiel. I've also liked the chamber music, The Invalid's Workshop. None of these though were terribly dissonant, just chromatic like a lot of late "romantics" who were still stuggling to stay within the constraints of tonality poat Wagner.

I guess this means that I need to check out one more Dale cultural adventure. I've actually only seen like one opera in my life live.

Grant Miller said...

I never knew Susan Bullock was an opera singer as well.

Coaster Punchman said...

What was I thinking? That I'm not as haphazard with random "u's" like some people.

Dale said...

They're always wrong aren't they Coolcat? It was pretty damned enjoyable.

I like to pretend I am but I'm just some schmo Freelance.

Chromatic makes a comeback. X. Dell said the same thing Chancelucky. Enjoying opera came by accident when someone gave me free tickets once and there was no turning back. I haven't heard any other of Strauss' works that I can recall but it sounds worth investigating.

As well as what Grant? Or are we thinking of Sandra?

Listen you, they're well placed, not random!

X. Dell said...

Actually, Dale, you have heard Richard Strauss' work if you've ever seen Kubrick's 2001. They even made a disco version of it for the pop charts.

Interesting season. I was not aware that the company performed "The Ring" last season. I've only heard it once in its entirety, but that was from a recording. The photos on the site look really cool, as if it would be quite an adventure to see it live. After all, as Mark Twain said, Wagner's music is better than it sounds.

Dale said...

D'oh! You're right X. Dell, of course I have in the film.

Yes, they did the Ring Cycle last year. They rolled it out piece by piece in the few seasons before with a different director for each opera.

That's the way I saw it, I didn't sign up for the 'marathon'. I wasn't sure what to expect but it was powerful and quite awesome.

Winter said...

Soooo pretty.

Dale said...

You know I am Winter!

Old Lady said...

You big city people get to see all the avante garde shit!

gifted typist said...

Great review, very evocative.
thanks

Dale said...

I loves me some cultshur Old Lady and I'm glad it's all around me. If I could just figure a way in.

My pleasure Gifted Typist. I wish I had more words to express myself with but my vocabulary is not so musically intelligent.