After three years of development, a new adaptation of Elektra is showing at Place des Arts
There’s something spectacular about anticipating the draw of a heavy red curtain and hearing the rising sound of an orchestra tuning their instruments. It is more thrilling, still, when two lights shine upon a conductor while the rest of the light in an expansive theatre space slowly fades. The audience’s claps grow louder in anticipation and eventually evolve into excited cheers before what’s sure to be an extravagant production commences. The Opéra de Montréal had been developing an adaptation of Elektra for three years and the premiere finally arrived on Nov. 21. The result did not disappoint.
Elektra—an opera by Richard Strauss that premiered in 1909—marks the second production from the Opéra de Montréal this season. The Opéra de Montréal is collaborating once again with Quebecois conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and has brought in an exceptional international cast for this production. Additionally, marking their first collaboration with Spain, they have collaborated with Victor Ochoa—a Spanish architect-turned-sculptor who designed his first opera set for Elektra—and what a set it was.
The curtains opened to reveal an enormous, beautiful sculpture—a man, Agamemnon, contorted, crouched and huddled. This sculpture—which is almost eight metres high and five metres in diameter—is rotated onstage in between major plot events so that by the end of the production the audience has seen the entirety of the statue. Approximately 100 individuals were involved in the statue’s realization and it weighs around 2,400 kilograms. This massive spectacle was created with 3D printers—seven to be exact—which had to work 24/7 for approximately seven months. With such massive, mesmerizing artwork onstage, in addition to the dramatic smoke, spectacular lighting and unfaltering vocals, the production was magnetically vivid and captivating.
Elektra is a tale of revenge, hatred, loathing and angst told in the form of one glorious act. The focus of the narrative is on Elektra, whose father and king, Agamemnon, has recently been murdered. The king’s adulterous wife, Klytemnästra, along with her lover, Aegisth, killed Elektra’s father, leaving Elektra to be consumed with an overwhelming desire to avenge her father’s death with her exiled brother Orest. However, at one point Elektra and her sister Chrysothemis receive news that their brother has been killed. Chrysothemis refuses to aid Elektra in her vengeful, murderous plan shortly thereafter and Elektra then decides to act alone by avenging her father with the very axe that was used to murder him. Yet, before she can do this, her brother Orest arrives and carries out the murders himself. In the end, Elektra’s adulterous mother and Aegisth are vanquished and Chrysothemis, Orest and Elektra are reunited once again.
For Pierre Vachon—the director of communications, outreach and education at the Opéra de Montréal—this production is the best in the history of the Opéra de Montréal’s 36 years. “In this opera everything is monumental, everything is big and excessive, and for me opera is excess,” said Vachon.
However, Elektra didn’t come without its challenges. Vachon said that rather than first programming the work and finding singers afterwards as they usually do, Elektra had to have well-cast singers before they could program the show. This was only one step in the three-to-four-year progression of everything coming together for this production. “Once we are ready to work it’s actually three weeks before the premiere that [the cast gathers] in Montreal and then we rehearse from morning to night for three weeks and that’s it, and the only thing we do is the stage direction. They all know their part and everything, contrary to theatre where they actually learn their parts together and they read together for about six to eight weeks,” said Vachon. “So it’s kind of a weird process but a very intense process.”
Vachon described Elektra to be mad in its excess, a monumental experience that’s in touch with our own sensibilities and modern-day world, paired with music that’s like a roller coaster. “It looks modern. It’s not like the old traditional opera kind of thing, it’s up to date … that’s why it’s easier to connect with [this] kind of production,” said Vachon. Vachon also emphasized the excitement that comes with collaborating with a renowned international sculptor like Victor Ochoa, as well as the “world-class singers” in their international cast, highlighting Lise Lindstrom (Elektra) who also stars as Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Although the singers, stage sets and music are enough to tempt one to promptly purchase Elektra tickets, the act of going to the opera in general is in itself also an enticing experience. It’s about engaging with a historical tradition, donning your finer apparel and clinking your glasses with others who have come to appreciate the complex, beautiful fruit of fine artistic labour. Yet, fine apparel or otherwise, there’s magic to be appreciated in simply hearing the sweetness of a soft vibrato escalate into an even more glorious, resonant vocality.
Elektra is showing on Nov. 24, 26 and 28 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Place des Arts. Tickets start at $55.75.