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REVIEW: Lise Lindstrom Looms Large in Nézet-Séguin, Beaulac's 'Elektra' at Opéra de Montréal

By Kurt Gottschalk on Dec 18, 2015 03:07 AM EST

Opéra de Montréal gave that city's first staging of Elektra in November--and the first production ever by a resident Montreal company--finessing a presentation both stark and expansive, starring the brilliant American soprano Lise Lindstrom. Filling the titular role, Lindstrom easily carried the weight of Strauss' demanding single-act, 100-minute opera. But the spotlight wasn't hers alone; she shared it with a massive, 25-foot statue of King Agamemnon and the equally enormous vision of the company's artistic director, Michel Beaulac.

Dressed in trousers and a work shirt, Lindstrom made Strauss' endlessly long lines seem effortless, filling the large hall with no sign of pushing or forcing her voice, something many of the other performers had trouble doing. Those voices, buried under the heft of Strauss' orchestration, dampened the opening scenes. Of course, that made Elektra's own cries of loss and heartache all the more wrenching.

Perched atop a library ladder, not quite hallway-up her hulking father figure, Lindstrom's voice broke from her character's emotion, showing neither strain nor losing pitch. 

Elektra, at intervals, gave the massive sculpture quarter-turns, changing the vantage over the course of the performance. Shadows played on and off it, care of subtle shifts in lighting and position. At times, the scene almost seemed to invert into a cave, where its maker might hide.

And at other times, Lindstrom actually climbed inside.

At the sound of an intruder, she emerged from the effigy wielding an axe--much like the one that killed her father--only to discover it was her long-missing brother, Orest (baritone Alan Held). When the two reconciled in embrace, they were nearly under their father's heel.

The statue, which not only dominated the stage but was one of very few props on it, was the work of Spanish artist Victor Ochoa, whose work Beaulac first saw in Madrid and immediately paired, in his mind, with Strauss' tragic heroine.

"I was on a trip to Spain, and I saw a statue of a famous Spanish singer, Lola Flores," Beaulac said in an interview the afternoon of the November 21 premiere.

"I thought, my God, we have to get Victor and Yannick [Nézet-Séguin, who conducted the four-night run] on stage together," he continued.

The following year, Beaulac returned to Madrid to visit Ochoa's workshop. He wanted to discuss the possibility of bringing the artist's immense work, generally stationed outdoors, inside and on-stage.

That result?

A 5,000-pound sculpture, composed of 2,250 individual, 3D-printed pieces, shipped to Montreal and assembled under Ochoa's supervision.

Beaulac took no small risk in centering the company's entire production around such an imposing object. Fortunately, and rather surprisingly, it came off quite well. So large does Agamemnon loom in the story, in the lives of the family he left behind, that his absence is solidified, dwarfing all around it. In fact, Ochoa's sculpture nearly risked stealing the show.

Ultimately, the piece became it--quite unlike William Kentridge's wonderfully fanciful sets for Berg's Lulu, running concurrently at the Met in New York, which actually did upstage the action.

Elektra hasn't always worked on so grand a scale. Well, at least not visibly so. But her part in Strauss' opera has dominated for close to a century.

Famously, Strauss' librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, cut the ancient story to focus on Elektra, herself, for their 1909 opera, in the process, creating a role that truly needs to be conquered. It was unlikely intentional, but notable nonetheless, that only Elektra's siblings Chrysothemis (Nicola Beller Carbone, soprano) and Orest managed to project over the full orchestra (albeit not with Lindstrom's naturalness). Such is not a criticism of the rest of the cast, so much as it remains a lauding of Lindstrom's remarkable instrument.

When she finally intoned "we who accomplish, we are the gods,” Elektra-cum-Lindstrom claimed an inheritance of the late Agamemnon's stature.

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TagsREVIEW, Kurt Gottschalk, Lise Lindstrom, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Michel Beaulac, Opera de Montreal, Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Elektra, Alan Held, Victor Ochoa, Lola Flores, Nicola Beller Carbone, EXCLUSIVE