Director's Notes: James Robinson on ElektraBy James RobinsonPosted in 18/19
What a difference 20 years makes. I had the great pleasure of making my Canadian Opera Company debut with this production of Elektra in 1997 at the invitation of the late Richard Bradshaw. It was his idea to pair two great Strauss one-acts, Elektra and Salome, using many of the same physical elements but with two very different directors. I still recall with great pleasure sharing “Strauss progress reports” with Atom Egoyan who created the wonderful Salome in his operatic debut.
What intrigued me about Elektra 20 years ago still fascinates me today. In the hands of Strauss and Hofmansthal, Sophocles' tragedy is less political in nature. Rather, it is a harsh psychological drama that focuses on a brutal and dysfunctional household. In a sense, the epic is distilled into the domestic, the political is given over to the personal. It also presents contrasts in hopes and dreams: Klytemnestra, Elektra’s murderous mother, is haunted by past crimes and a cruel justice that she fears will be served; Chrysothemis, her sister, dreams of a happy domestic life and wants a perfect family; Elektra herself aspires only to avenge her father’s murder and is singularly focused on bringing down his killers.
Susan Bullock as Elektra in the Canadian Opera Company's production of R. Strauss' Elektra, 2007. Photo: Michael Cooper
That which was the driving force many years ago has, however, somewhat changed. Instead of exaggerated and abstract shapes and gestures (the late-1990s was a time when many of us theatre artists all seemed to be dipping into the same Expressionist well of Edvard Munch-inspired colour and Francis Bacon-esque physical writhing), I have concentrated further on the domestic situation of Elektra with a more restrained palette but, hopefully, with deeper psychological focus.
Richard Strauss' Elektra is on stage from January 26 to February 22, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
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