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Richard Strauss 1864–1949

Tragedy in one act
Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal based on Sophocles
First performed January 25 1909, Royal Opera House, Dresden

Sung in German with German & English surtitles

There was a chamber music concert on April 2 to celebrate this new production.
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 3o mins before performances begin and on video (see above)

BACKGROUND Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia in return for favourable winds for the Greek fleet under his command. When the King returned victorious from Troy his wife Clytemnestra took her revenge: by murdering him, with her lover Aegisthus’ help, in his bath. Then sent her son Orestes into exile. YEARS LATER … Day after day Elektra conjures up the image of her dead father. She’s obsessed by one thought alone: revenge on her mother Clytemnestra and Aegisthus for murdering Agamemnon. Her sister Chrysothemis just wants to lead a normal life: get married and have children. Clytemnestra’s tormented by sleepless nights and terrible dreams. In the company of her minders she encounters Elektra, who – for a change – is friendly towards her. Clytemnestra casts her confidante and trainbearer’s warnings to the wind and asks her daughter for advice. Elektra seems willing, but steers the conversation towards a horrifiying vision; vividly describing to her mother the only thing can bring her relief: her own death, which Orestes will deal her. News reaches them that Orestes, whose return Elektra so desperately longs for, is dead. She tries to persuade her sister Chrysothemis to help her take revenge with their own hands; but she refuses. A stranger appears saying he witnessed Orestes fatal accident. Elektra’s violent reaction makes him ask what her name is. When he recognises his sister, he drops his disguise: It’s Orestes, who managed to get in under the pretence of being a messenger bringing news of his own death. Or is he just a figment of Elektra’s imagination? Orestes’ companion urges haste. Suddenly all hell breaks loose in the house. When Aegisthus comes, Elektra lights his way. Chrysothemis reports that revenge has been carried out. Elektra begins a dance of joy; but collapses, lying lifeless on the ground.

Elektra's obsessed with taking revenge for her father Agamemnon’s murder.

He was killed by her mother Klytämnestra and her lover Aegisth; Klytämnestra taking revenge for Agamemnon sacrificing her daughter Iphigenia to ensure favourable winds for his fleet sailing to Troy. Elektra and her sister Chrysothemis, who just wants to lead a normal life, are being held prisoner. Their brother was sent into exile as a child; Elektra longs for his return. Two strangers bring news of Orest’s accidental death.

Can Elektra persuade her sister to help her kill their mother, or must she do it alone? And who are the two strangers? Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote his drama in 1903, based on Sophocles, a few years after Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud published their studies on hysteria. Unlike the ancient tragedy, Hofmannsthal focusses on Elektra’s psyche. Richard Strauss’ opera digs even deeper into her soul than the play; this was the beginning of an extremely fruitful collaboration between composer and poet.

With unbelievable force and outrageous harmonies the huge orchestras allows us to hear the woman being overwhelmed, again and again, by her fantasies of revenge. The work takes up the insights of the founder of psychoanalysis, which were spreading at the beginning of the century, to such a degree that Elektra almost seems like a clinical study.