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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    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
    Various Artists
    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 / Polygram International/Spectrum
    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