Canadian Opera Company’s Elektra could be more electrifying

ELEKTRA by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs.


ELEKTRA by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs to February 22. $35-$350. 416-363-8231. See listing. Rating: NNN

At its best, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthals Elektra can be, well, electrifying. But some wattage is missing in the Canadian Opera Companys revival.

A psychologically penetrating look at the dysfunctional descendants of the House of Atreus, the one-act tells the story of the eponymous princess (Christine Goerke) and her sister Chrysothemis (Erin Wall) after their father Agamemnons murder by their mom Klytamnestra (Susan Bullock) and lover Aegisth (Michael Schade).

While Chrysothemsis wants to get on with her life, Elektra is awaiting the return of their brother Orest (Wilhelm Schwinghammer) to avenge their dads death, even though there are rumours he too is dead.

Director James Robinsons abstract production has been tweaked since he premiered it two decades ago. Derek McLanes off-kilter set immediately suggests things are out of sorts (only occasionally providing a hazard for performers), and the clever use of toys a rocking horse here, a doll there evokes the siblings helplessness and unresolved childhood fears.

And when one character lifts up a piece of the set no spoilers its absolutely thrilling theatre, working on both a literal and symbolic level.

The title role is one of the most difficult in all of opera, and if Goerkes voice on opening night wasnt as pristine in its upper register as it has been in this same theatre, she brings an intelligence and sensitivity to the role, protective and aggressive with her sister, snarlingly sarcastic with her mom and, when Orest eventually shows up, full of uncontrollable emotion.

Most of the cast is excellent. Things get off to a thrilling start with the households maids Jill Grove, Simona Genga, Lauren Segal, Tracy Cantin and Lauren Eberwein excitedly setting the scene. Walls silvery soprano captures Chrysothemiss conventionality perfectly, and Schwinghammer (appropriate name!) has a firm, booming bass and looks convincing enough to avenge a murder.

The only flaw in the casting is Bullock, who played Elektra for the COC more than a decade ago and makes a disappointingly bland Klytamnestra. Her voice has shrunk in power and she lacks presence. So her mid-opera scene with Elektra, which should be a high point, is deflating.

Johannes Debus and the COC orchestra are better at bringing out the lyrical and noble moments of Strausss score the recognition scene is a stand-out than they are in the big, dissonant passages.

This Elektra is still exciting, but it could be so much more.

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