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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles


Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

Elektra: Montreal Symphony Season Ends with Grand Flourish

By Joseph So June 4, 2001

May 30th 2001/ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
Richard Strauss: Elektra (in concert)
Elizabeth Connell (Elektra)
Judith Forst (Klytemnestra)
Francoise Pollet (Chrysothemis)
Siegfried Jerusalem (Aegisthus)
Alan Held (Orestes)
Orchestre symphonique de Montreal
Charles Dutoit, conductor

Pardon the bad pun, but the atmosphere was positively elektric on Wednesday night at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Anytime you have a performance of Richard Strauss' Elektra, it is bound to be an occasion. What would be more fitting to close the Montreal Symphony season than with this 20th Century masterpiece?

Charles Dutoit managed to assemble a superb cast. And for the same soloists to sing on two consecutive nights requires a Herculean effort of stamina few would dare to attempt. This is particularly true for Elektra herself, who is onstage from beginning to end. Kudos to Elizabeth Connell, whose performance of the title role can only be described as triumphant. Pacing herself splendidly, there was not a trace of fatigue in her voice from beginning to end. Possessing an instrument of lyrical beauty rarely encountered in this repertoire, she met the daunting vocal challenges head on, serving up searing fortissimo high notes alternating with moments of quiet beauty during the Recognition Scene. A large woman, Connell was not afraid to act with her body. Using simple gestures and minimal body movements in the final mad dance, she succeeded in giving a dramatically convincing portrayal within the confines of a concert performance.

Matching Elektra note for note was the galvanizing Klytemnestra of Judith Forst, a late replacement for German mezzo Hanna Schwarz. An estimable artist enjoying a spectacular Indian summer career-wise, Forst sang and acted with great intensity. It was first of all a musical performance, unlike so many Klytemnestras who resort to excessive histrionics. The few parlando phrases Forst employed were used judiciously. As Chrysothemis, French soprano Francoise Pollet had her moments, but her soft-grained voice was not ideal in this role. She sang beautifully in the softer passages such as her entrance aria, but elsewhere she had to force to be heard over the huge orchestra.

The men have it relatively easy in this opera. As Orestes, Alan Held was suitably grave and sonorous, while Siegfried Jerusalem did a star turn as Aegisthus. For a Wagnerian tenor accustomed to the interminable Tristans and Siegfrieds, this five-minute role must have been like being on vacation. The supporting roles were all taken with capable voices, with tenor Marc Hervieux (Young Servant) and soprano Louise Marcotte (Fifth Maid) particularly noteworthy.

However wonderful the singing was, top honours belonged to the magnificent playing of the Montreal Symphony under the baton of Charles Dutoit. One is almost overwhelmed by the waves upon waves of sound coming from the orchestra, yet at no time was clarity sacrificed for sheer volume. Dutoit conducted with the full palette of tone colours that dazzled the ears. Even with the huge orchestral forces and the lively acoustic, there were only fleeting moments when the orchestra covered the singers. These two performances represented OSM premieres of this work. Given the enormous success, let's hope it is the first of many to come.

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