Edmonton Opera's Elektra is alternately violent and tender, triumphant and despairing

Alexander Prior
Edmonton Journal

Conductor Alexander Prior, writing about Edmonton Opera’s new production of Richard Strauss’ Elektra, which opened at the Jubilee on Saturday, commented, “Tonight’s Alberta premiere is an epic testament to Edmonton Opera’s ambition, vision, and strength.”

He is right on all counts. The opera is challenging to present, because of the demands of the music – in both the vocal and orchestral writing – and of the emotional content. Strauss’ brilliant score, a kind of culmination of the Romantic tradition, is alternately violent and tender, triumphant and despairing.

One certainly doesn’t go to Elektra to revisit familiar tunes, or for a sentimental love story. Instead, one goes for a visceral plunge into the lives of three women living on the extreme edge, obsessed with death or revenge. That is exactly what Edmonton Opera gave us, in a gripping 100 minutes of musical theatre.
All this is enhanced by David Fraser’s dynamic lighting, from the flickering red light on the walls from the brazier at the opening, to the shadowy movement of people and lights behind those curtains. The use of powerful flashlights, held by the guards and then by Elektra, is chillingly alienating, too, but shining them straight into the eyes of the audience is not a good idea – I hope this will be changed to pointing up towards the ceiling of the auditorium in the Tuesday and Thursday performances.

What really did come across was the playing of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. This was Prior’s Canadian operatic debut, and he not only paced the opera very effectively, but secured some wonderfully powerful and taut playing from the orchestra in a score that is beyond their normal comfort zone.

It would be foolish to pretend that this opera isn’t challenging – it is, and it’s meant to be. But like all the best challenges, the rewards are considerable, especially with a fine production like this. What a way to end such an enterprising and successful Edmonton Opera season.
Read the rest of the review here