Today I had a second chance to see & hear the Canadian Opera Company’s Elektra at the Four Seasons Centre. It was so much better for me the second time, possibly because I was sitting closer. That first time (from a distance) I was quibbling with the stage picture & the directorial concept (which seemed to be at odds with the work), the way voices carried over the orchestra (sometimes not so well) and especially the one performer I singled out last time. In hindsight maybe what I thought I heard before was someone being careful? or fighting a cold? This time I saw and heard complete abandon & commitment putting any worries I had to rest.
Up close, the intensity of the performances swallowed us whole, as we were carried away both by the sounds of the orchestra—and the pleasures of watching Maestro Debus at work—as well as the high calibre of the singing. I still dislike the concept, but up close it doesn’t matter so much, not when the stars are in your face. Objections vanish when the music overpowers dramatic logic.
Last time I felt that Erin Wall’s Chrysothemis more or less made me forget everyone else sharing the stage. I was very moved by her personal drama (if you’ve not heard click here), thrilled to see her back with so much voice & presence. There was an authenticity to what she was doing that dwarfed everyone else. Today Christine Goerke was not just her peer, but the star of the show: as we would expect. I heard the kind of mastery from her today that we had experienced previously in the three seasons of Wagner. I recall the difference across the run of Götterdämmerung, from a fascinating but careful performance early in the run to something so confident as to have a kind of swagger to it. Similarly, her opening show seemed somewhat tentative, whereas today the portrayal was so much more fun, so much more complete. She was Elektra in other words.
The stage was packed full of great singers, many of them Canadian. While Susan Bullock can sometimes sound wonderful I think she was miscast as Klytemnestra, upending the show for me. The role that needs to be the monster of ceremonies, the designated target of our hatred, was sometimes inaudible, sometimes seeming like a mom displeased with her child rather than an unrepentant killer. I am again speaking of the scale and intensity of the performance, which was fairly good by most standards. But as I said in my previous review I need to hate this character to go with the story’s flow: the ecstasy that can be felt in the score upon her murder. I don’t want to be pondering whether Orest & Elektra are bad people for killing her. It needs to be clear beyond question (or do you think this is a legitimate interpretive arc the director could take for the opera? in which case we’re not likely to agree). She reminded me of Placido Domingo, the tenor without high-notes singing baritone roles, taking work away from capable baritones; please follow the analogy. Jill Grove was a tower of strength as the First Maid: but really could have been our Klytemnestra. No she’s not Canadian, she’s a Texan (in case you think I’m beating that drum again) and she was a fabulous Amneris a few years ago. But please excuse me, you may think I should just shut up and enjoy what’s in front of me. Michael Schade as Klytemnestra’s consort Aegisth was even funnier up close (drunkenly picking his nose and wiping his finger on his waistcoat!). And while Wilhelm Schwinghammer was a moving Orest, mostly because of the way Goerke made me care about him this time and not because of anything he did: yes I do wonder if a Canadian could have sung the part as well or better. Owen McCausland was wonderful in his brief role as a servant. The aforementioned Grove, Simona Genga, Lauren Segal, Tracy Cantin, Lauren Eberwein and Alexandra Loutsion gave the opera a strong start in the opening scene.
There’s one more performance on the 22nd that I expect to be even better. Misgivings or not, I’d suggest you see it if you can. The orchestra and most of the singing are truly fabulous.