Richard Strauss

Elektra, opera, Op. 58 (TrV 223)

    Description by Roy Brewer

    Coming immediately after his one-act shocker, Salome (1905), Elektra (1909) took Richard Strauss further into a musical world that stood in bleak contrast to nineteenth century Romantic opera. This tale of multiple murder and bitter vengeance also proved crucial to Strauss' later development as a composer of opera, since it marked the beginning of his collaboration with the young Viennese poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, whose German translation of Sophocles' Greek tragedy originally inspired Strauss to take up the subject, and with whom he would craft his most lasting masterpieces.

    The story is simple. Elektra is mourning the death of her father Agamemnon, murdered by her mother, Klytemnestra. She tries to persuade her sister Chrysothemis to help her avenge his death. Their brother Orestes, whom they feared dead, returns home and is persuaded to kill both Klytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. ("Very unlike" -- as one English nobleman is supposed to have remarked after seeing the opera -- "the home life of our own dear Queen.")

    As with his setting of Oscar Wilde's Salome, Strauss' Elektra is not merely an adaptation for musical purposes, but a "play set to music." As in Sophocles' original, the climax of the opera is not the murder of Klytemnestra and Aegisthus, but the tense relationship that develops between Elektra and Orestes as she incites him to action.

    Strauss always favored the soprano voice and, in a cast of 14, indulged himself in no fewer than six, in both major and minor roles. The subliminal effect of this high tessitura, together with lavish orchestration and a certain amount of atonality, is to intensify the psychological conflicts that emerge as Elektra pursues her vengeful plan. "The struggle between words and music has been the problem of my life right from the beginning" wrote Strauss in a letter to the famous Wagner singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink, who sang Klytemnestra at the first performance. If Elektra wins that hidden struggle it is through the sheer power and conviction of the music.

    Aside from their somewhat scandalous subject matter, there are few similarities between Elektra and Salome. As von Hofmannsthal wrote, "In Salome much is, so to speak, in purple and violet. In Elektra...it is a mixture of night and light, or black and bright." The events leading up to Orestes' deed are not matched by anything corresponding, or even faintly similar, to those in Salome and lead to "victory and purification -- a sequence I can imagine as being much more powerful in music than in the written word."

    The first night was not a success. The critic Julius Korngold sarcastically wrote "How beautiful was the Princess Salome tonight!" Strauss riposted "When a mother is slain on stage do they expect me to write a violin concerto?" Following its presentation at Covent Garden the English critic Bernard Newman wrote of "a strain of coarseness and thoughtlessness" in Strauss which persuaded him to "take up so crude a perversion of the old Greek story as that of Hugo von Hofmannsthal," and Bernard Shaw asked "Is there [anywhere] such an atmosphere of malignant and cancerous evil as we get here?" Inexplicably the first New York performance in 1932 was in French.

    Yet in many ways Elektra is Strauss' most successful opera, though not his most popular. Its one-act structure leads to a concise, relentless and fast-developing drama of a sort not conspicuous in the composer's more Romantic works.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Wo bleibt Ekektra? Ist doch ihre Stunde
    2. Allein! Weh, ganz allein
    3. Elektra!
    4. Ich kann nicht sitzen und ins Dunkel starren
    5. Es geht ein Lärm los
    6. Was willst du? Steht doch, dort!
    7. Die Gotter! bist doch selber eine Göttlin
    8. Ich will nichts hören!
    9. Ich hab keine guten Nächte
    10. Wenn das rechte Blutopfer
    11. Was bluten muss?
    12. Was sagen sie ihr denn?
    13. Orest! Orest ist tot!
    14. Platz da! Wer lungert so vor einer Tür?
    15. Nun muss es hier von uns geschehn
    16. Du! Du! denn du bist stark!
    17. Nun denn, allein!
    18. Was willst du, fremder Mensch?
    19. Elektra! Elektra
    20. Orest!
    21. Du wirst es tun? Allein?
    22. Seid ihr von Sinnen
    23. Ich habe ihm das Beil nicht geben können!
    24. Es muss etwas geschehen sein
    25. He! Lichter Licther! Ist niemand da
    26. Elektra, Schwester!
    27. Ob ich mich höre?
    28. Hörst du denn nicht, sie tragen ihn
    29. Schweig, und tanze

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Decca 4831494
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon B002013902
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4793387
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Decca
    2013 Teldec 99175
    2013 Decca
    2012 LSO Live LSO 0701
    2012 Challenge Classics CC 72565
    2012 Decca
    2012 Acanta 233494
    2011 Fab Four / Membran 233332
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9249
    2011 Teldec / Teldec Classics 4677013
    2010 RCA Red Seal 8869768699
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099964077
    2010 EMI Classics
    2009 Documents / Meisterwerke/Membran 223246
    2008 EMI Classics 09190
    2008 Golden Melodram 30008
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    2007 Decca 000830302
    2007 Royal Opera House Heritage Series 004
    2006 Weitblick 49
    2006 Claves 502514/15
    2006 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 5022
    2006 Opera D'Oro 7033
    2006 Walhall 0155
    2005 Opera D'Oro 1431
    2002 Warner Fonit 43560
    2002 Connoisseur Society 60011
    2002 Guild Historical 2213/14
    2002 Decca 470583
    2001 Naïve 34109
    2001 Golden Melodram 30049
    2001 Bella Voce 7245
    2001 Opera D'Oro 1300
    2001 Opera D'Oro 5008
    2000 Hommage 7001841
    2000 Koch Schwann 316432
    2000 Gala Records 100512
    2000 Myto Records 81004
    1999 Opera D'Oro 1190
    1999 Philips 422574
    1999 VAI Audio 1170
    1999 Mondo Musica 10505
    1999 Arkadia 78059
    1997 Orfeo 456972
    1997 Golden Melodram / Melodram 30007
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453429
    1996 Teldec 99175
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 445329
    1992 Orfeo 298922
    1990 EMI Music Distribution 54067
    1986 Decca 417345
    NoNoise 053632
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 4
    Standing Room Only 833
    Myto Records 946117