Vancouver Opera


An opera in one act by Richard Strauss to the libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Sung in German with English surtitles

Conductor: Mario Bernardi Director: Lotfi Mansouri Chorus director: Leslie Uyeda Assistant director: Ann Hodges Set design: Wolfram Skalicki Lighting design: Stephen Ross Costume design : Amrei Skalicki Stage Manager: Sheila Munn

Venue: The Queen Elizabeth Theatre Dates: 22, 25, 27, 29 March 2003

Reviewer: Elizabeth Paterson

Vancouver Opera has begun its Strauss Cycle with an excellent production of Elektra, Strauss's first collaboration with the German writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal. With the reverberating notes of the opening motif Mario Bernardi and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra plunged the audience into an intense, dark, Freudian world. This is the very best playing I have heard from the orchestra in some time. Under Bernardi's baton, the 87-member orchestra moved onward inexorably but subtly through Strauss's complex music. There was command and tenderness and incandescent lyricism.

Mary Jane Johnson plays Elektra bravely and unflinchingly. Her opening cry of "Allein" (`Alone') and her longing for her dead father was heart-aching. She slides in and out of her worlds of sanity and insanity utterly convincingly, whether inhabiting a private mad world dancing a dance of imaginary triumph over her enemies or appearing to be a strong, grounded woman, a priestess, who can advise her mother on the correct rituals, rituals that have their own mad logic, or telling Orestes what dreadful, real things happen at night. As her mother, Klytemnestra, the great Judith Forst was in splendid voice. She was at once regal and terrifying and pursued by nightmare without ever being histrionic.

The rest of the cast was uniformly excellent. David Okerlund's Orestes was assured and determined. Chrysothemis, Elektra's sister who longs for an ordinary life, is sung by Claire Primrose, an Australian singer in the early years of what promises to be a strong career. Gary Relyea (Orestes' Guardian) and John Mac Master (Aegisthus) brought authority and solid, confident singing to their small roles. And Karen Ydenberg's 5th maid, who defends Elektra against the gossip of the other women, was most touching.

The set from Seattle Opera was originally designed by Wolfram Skalicki for the Canadian Opera Company. It is no sun-drenched Minoan palace but rather represents what the House of Atreus is to its members - a harsh, black, forbidding prison, lit with lighting designer Stephen Ross's blood-red swatches.

Lotfi Mansouri's direction is admirably clear and straightforward, if perhaps a shade conventional. For example, the erotic sensibility of the music in some scenes is not played up, though neither is it covered up.

I have two cavils: wooden acting from many in the cast and (apparently) a lack of a professional choreographer for Elektra's dance, prevent this production from rising to truly breathtaking heights. But these are small problems. Strauss is well-served by this production. I look forward to more.

2003, Elizabeth Paterson