Dance yourself to death, this should be good. British dramatic soprano Susan Bullock returns to Toronto next week, singing the title role of Elektra with the Canadian Opera Company. Bullock, who made a splash as Brünnhilde in the COC’s Ring Cycle last fall, is the Elektra of the moment: She debuted at La Scala in 2005 in the role and will sing it next season at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Bullock is said to have a big, powerful voice that she marshals with courage and musical smarts — definite requirements for Richard Strauss’s tortured heroine. The role demands demented vocal powers.
Based on Sophocles’ Greek tragedy, the 1909 opera in one act is about women gone mad. Elektra lives outside the palace as a crazed animal, obsessed on avenging the death of her father, King Agamemnon, by her mother, Klytämnestra, and her mother’s usurping lover. After Elektra’s brother returns and carries out her vengeance, Elektra dances to death in the final, terrifying scene.
Adding bang to the vocal fireworks is the presence of Ewa Podle´s, the superstar Polish contralto, debuting in the role of Klytämnestra, the scheming, murderous mother. Podle´s wows audiences every time she comes to town. I’ve sat slack-jawed listening to her as Jocasta in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and the title roles of Rossini’s Tancredi and Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Trust Klytämnestra’s nightmare scene to be nightmarish.
The production is from 1996, but with the move to the new opera house, Richard Bradshaw gets to conduct Strauss’s monumental, expressionistic score in its full, original version. There’s a famous Elektra anecdote of Strauss telling the conductor at a rehearsal, “Louder, louder. I can still hear the singers!” Prepare to be bludgeoned.
Elektra opens at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen St W) at 7:30pm on Sat, Apr 21. Tix cost $60 to $275; call (416) 363-8231.
The Canadian premiere of CW Gluck’s 1774 French version of Orpheus And Eurydice will push Opera Atelier to its limits. As Orpheus, tenor Colin Ainsworth will have to deliver a vocal and acting performance of the highest order to do justice to this story of undying love and the seductive power of music.
The opera’s grand and elegiac choral sections will be a great showcase for the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. There will be much ballet, evoking everything from Elysian Fields to the desolation of Hades.
The queer quotient — notwithstanding OA’s much-loved tradition of displaying both male and female flesh at its sexiest — falls outside the purview of the opera. There is a happy ending in Gluck’s version: Orpheus and Eurydice are reunited in life. But most Greek myths hold that Orpheus fails to retrieve Eurydice from the underworld. With their reunion in death still years away, Orpheus retires to Thrace and swears off women altogether out of respect for his lost love. Fooling around with men, apparently, did not besmirch her memory. Equally outraged by his unattainable beauty and for introducing homosexuality to the region, the local women beat him to death with rocks.