Statuesque: Elektra at the Opéra de Montréal

Strauss – Elektra

Elektra – Lise Lindstrom

Klytämnestra – Agnes Zwierko

Chrysothemis – Nicola Beller Carbone

Orest – Alan Held

Ägisth – John Mac Master

Der Pfleger des Orest – Tomislav Lavoie

Ein junger Diener – Isiaiah Bell

Ein alter Diener – Claude Grenier

Die Aufseherin – Aidan Ferguson

Die Vertraute – France Bellemare

Die Schleppträgerin – Caroline Gélinas

Erste Magd – Catherine Anne Daniel

Zweite Magd – Alexandra Beley

Dritte Magd – Carolyn Sproule

Vierte Magd – Chantal Dionne

Fünfte Magd – Kimy McLaren

Choeur de l’Opéra de Montréal, Orchestre Métropolitain / Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Stage director – Alain Gauthier

Opéra de Montréal, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Montréal, Québec.  Saturday, November 28th, 2015.

Tonight’s Elektra would certainly seem like a statement of intent by the Opéra de Montréal.  For it they assembled a cast that would certainly be at home in any major international house, led by a conductor who is in demand for both his symphonic and his operatic work.  Indeed, it’s remarkable that a company that stages four main-stage productions a year can produce such a varied season consisting of two Italian works, this Elektra and a world premiere.  It’s certainly testament to the ambition of this aspirational company that they pulled it off.  The Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier holds a very special place in my heart.  It’s not a perfect venue – acoustically its limitations are well known, tonight the orchestra sounded covered but the voices came through clearly enough – and for symphonic music it has been replaced by the recently opened Maison symphonique next door.  There were also issues with ushers allowing latecomers in and escorting them to their seats as far in as Chrysothemis’ entry and some people were allowed to exit the hall and re-enter to take their original seats.  I noticed some of the boxes were empty and surely it must have been possible in that case to reserve one of them for latecomers?  This would have been much less disruptive than the current arrangements.  Nevertheless what struck me was how youthful and enthusiastic the audience was.  Perhaps it is to be expected in a city such as this, home to so many major universities, but it really was encouraging to see such a youthful and eager audience for opera.

© Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
© Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
The staging was by Alain Gauthier.  I can’t say it convinced.  The main feature of the set was a very large sculpture clearly meant to represent Agamemnon.  As the curtain rose, we saw Elektra welding the statue together and she was costumed in welder chic all night.  As the evening progressed and scenes changed, Elektra would push the statue around.  That was pretty much it for the concept.  Personenregie was certainly rudimentary – characters felt barely directed, so much so that when Elektra sang ‘ich habe ihm das Beil nicht geben könnte’ she resorted to some stock operatic gestures that seemed overwrought.  From time to time smoke would appear at the back of the stage and as the curtain came down the statue was quite magnificently lit.  So much can be done with singers in even a black box setting with strong direction and real interaction between them.  I wished that Gauthier had just forgotten about the statue and instead just created a narrative with his singers in a black box setting that would allow them to create real, believable characters.  As it was, I felt the sculpture distracted from the central performances.

Lise Lindstrom © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
Lise Lindstrom © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
Lise Lindstrom is known as an outstanding Turandot and I have had the pleasure of seeing her in that role in London, England and in València.  Elektra is a completely different challenge and tonight she truly sang the role.  Her Elektra was always musical and made the fearsome challenges of the role seem easy.  I found the role sat slightly low for her.  The voice is somewhat narrow and I missed a little of the elemental struggle that other interpreters bring to the part.  Yet, she poured out streams of effortless easy tone and her girlish sound made her Elektra seem younger and more vulnerable than she can sometimes seem.  She certainly inspired gratitude for her effortless vocalism and sheer presence.

Lise Lindstrom & Agnes Zwierko © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
Lise Lindstrom & Agnes Zwierko © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
As her sister Nicola Beller Carbone gave us a voice of velvety smokiness.  The tessitura held no terrors, she phrased generously and she made much of the text.  She undershot at the very top of the voice on several occasions but her implicit understanding of the idiom and the generosity of her singing inspired respect.  Agnes Zwierko was an excellent Klytämnestra.  What a pleasure it was to hear a Klytämnestra in the prime of her career singing with voluptuous tone and genuine vocal warmth.  She had no problem being heard in this difficult acoustic and the voice opened up nicely at the very top.  She also sang with a fabulously resonant lower register that blended wonderfully with the orchestra.  This was Zwierko’s debut in the role and it’s a role that suits her very well.

© Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
© Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
Alan Held brought a warm middle register and a slightly frayed top to the role of Orest whereas John Mac Master was a strong and virile Ägisth.  The role of the Young Servant is one where so many singers have made a mark and so it was tonight with Isiaiah Bell’s bright and easy tone certainly making an impression.  The maids were of the quality one would expect to hear in any leading lyric theatre – in fact they were better than some I have heard in some major theatres.  It is truly remarkable that a nation of almost 8 million people can produce so much fantastic singing talent and the presence of Quebec singers in so many major lyric theatres across the world is testament to the talent that the province produces.  This was certainly on display in the supporting cast tonight.

Nicola Beller Carbone & Lise Lindstrom © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
Nicola Beller Carbone & Lise Lindstrom © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
Yannick Nézet-Séguin was greeted with an enormous ovation as he took to the podium.  The quality of the playing of the Orchestre métropolitain was truly outstanding – I didn’t hear a single fluff all evening.  Yes, they lacked the ideal depth of string tone but part of that was also due to the particularities of the acoustic.  I did however find his conducting somewhat cautious.  The tempo for the opening scene was too measured, failing to raise the temperature to lead into Elektra’s monologue.  The recognition scene also sagged as it so often does.  Nézet-Séguin certainly brought out a number of details in the texture that I hadn’t heard before but what I missed in his reading was an organic growth from the arresting opening through to the very end.  There was also an awkward gear change from the closing dance to the repeats of the Agamemnon motif that didn’t quite convince.  He did however bring out a lot of the lyricism in the score, for example in the scene between Elektra and Chrysothemis just after the Young Servant’s scene.  It’s an interesting reading but one I would say was a work in progress rather than the finished article.

Lise Lindstrom © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
Lise Lindstrom © Opéra de Montréal / Yves Renaud
The staging might have been less than satisfying but tonight’s Elektra certainly delivered the goods musically.  It was generously sung and conducted with imagination by a cast that had clearly been hand-picked with care.  Certainly, it was musically worthy of any major lyric theatre, extremely well played by the orchestra and evenly-cast throughout.  For a small company to do work such as this on what was clearly a shoe-string budget to a youthful audience is truly remarkable.  Certainly the future of opera in Montreal is a positive one.

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