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OPERA review – Elektra
WA Opera

Beauty and darkness collided in the WEST AUSTRALIAN OPERA’S production of Elektra. The ambitious production involved collaboration between OPERA AUSTRALIA, WA OPERA, the Perth International Arts Festival and ThinIce. Director Matthew Lutton made an impressive opera debut. He framed the story through the eyes of the revenge-ravaged Elektra whose obsession with her father Agamemnon was played out visually with the King’s ghost inhabiting the stage just as the Agamemnon motiv haunts the score. Black-painted actor James Berlyn was a constant shadowy presence miming and manipulating events onstage. Black was the theme for the creative team with dark castle walls looming ominously behind the drab-clothed cast (set and costumes Zoe Atkinson). The only respite from the gloom came at the end when LED globes floated down from the roof and sprinklers emerged washing the walls clean. This happened while Elektra celebrated her revenge and as she sang the figure of Agamemnon sunk into a pool of inky water, his shadow dissolving as Elektra’s revenge is absolved. It was the most impressive use of a trapdoor I’ve seen.

In the hands of conductor Richard Mills the strangled melody and bleak exultation of Strauss’ score was delineated but also kept well in check. On February 11th the reduced West Australian Symphony Orchestra (woodwind, brass and percussion pared back to fit in the pit) played with an energy that made Strauss’ score feel modern and fresh all over again.

The highlight was hearing today’s greatest Elektra, Eva Johansson, whose splendid sound made even this darkest of productions a thing of beauty. Yes she was sullen, brutal and grief-stricken, but never at the expense of clean, soaring singing. The pairing with Orla Boylan (Chrysothemis) could not have been better; Boylan’s Ich kann nicht sitzen was powerful and pitiful and the friction between the sisters was tangible. A bald Klytamnestra – who first arrived onstage to scalp a servant – was sung by Elizabeth Campbell who was every inch the decrepit tyrant. Daniel Sumegi was a resonant Orest and Richard Greager a foppish Aegisth.