Elektra (Music By Richard Strauss) English Subtitles
Elektra, Op. 58, is a one-act opera by Richard Strauss, to a German-language libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, which he adapted from his 1903 drama Elektra. The opera was the first of many collaborations between Strauss and Hofmannsthal. It was first performed at the Dresden State Opera on 25 January 1909. It was dedicated to his friends Natalie and Willy Levin.
While based on ancient Greek mythology, the opera is highly modernist and expressionist. Hofmannsthal and Strauss's adaptation of the story focuses tightly on Elektra, thoroughly developing her character by single-mindedly expressing her emotions and psychology as she meets with other characters, mostly one at a time. The other characters are Klytaemnestra, her mother and one of the murderers of her father Agamemnon; her sister, Chrysothemis; her brother, Orestes; and Klytaemnestra's lover, Aegisthus.
Various aspects from the myth are minimized as background to Elektra's character and her obsession. Other facets of the ancient story are completely excluded, in particular the earlier sacrifice by Agamemnon of his and Klytaemnestra's daughter Iphigenia, which was the motivation for Klytaemnestra's subsequent murder of Agamemnon. These changes tightened the focus on Elektra's furious lust for revenge. The result is a very modern, expressionistic retelling of the ancient Greek myth. Compared to Sophocles's Electra, the opera presents raw, brutal, violent, and bloodthirsty horror. Ståle Wikshåland has analysed the use of time and temporality in the dramaturgy of Elektra.
Elektra is the second of Strauss's two highly modernist operas (the other being Salome), characterized by cacophonous sections and atonal leitmotifs. These works highly contrasts with his earliest operas and his later period. The reception of Elektra in German-speaking countries was mostly divided amongst traditionalist and modernist lines.
Elektra is one of the most frequently performed operas based on classical Greek mythology. Elektra received its UK premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1910 with Edyth Walker in the title role and Thomas Beecham conducting. The first United States performance of the opera in the original German was given by the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company at the Academy of Music on 29 October 1931, with Anne Roselle in the title role, Charlotte Boerner as Chrysothemis, Margarete Matzenauer as Klytaemnestra, Nelson Eddy as Orest, and Fritz Reiner conducting.
Opera in one act by Richard Strauss with libretto in German by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, based on Sophocles' Elektra
Elektra (Electra), Agamemnon's daughter -soprano
Chrysothemis, her sister -soprano
Clytemnestra, their mother, Agamemnon's widow -contralto
Her confidante -soprano
Her trainbearer -soprano
A young servant -tenor
An old servant -bass
Orest (Orestes), son of Agamemnon -baritone
Orest's tutor -bass
Aegisth (Aegisthus), Clytemnestra's paramour -tenor
An overseer -soprano
First maid -contralto
Second maid -soprano
Third maid -mezzo-soprano
Fourth maid -soprano
Fifth maid -soprano
Men and women of the household
Time: after the fall of Troy
First performance at Dresden, January 25, 1909
Soprano. Elektra is one of three children of Klytämnestra and Agamemnon, her sister being Chrysothemis and her brother Orest. When Agamemnon returned from fighting in the Trojan War, he found his wife had taken her lover, Aegisth, to live with her in the palace. Aegisth and Klytämnestra murdered Agamemnon in his bath. Elektra sent Orest away to a safe haven, whilst she and her sister remained at the palace. Elektra is forced to live in the grounds like the animals. Only the youngest of the maids treats her with respect, reminding the others that Elektra is still a princess.
She is beaten for her loyalty. Elektra has bunea the axe which was used to murder her father, determined it will be used to avenge his death. Klytamnestra demands to know from Elektra the cure for the nightmares she is having—only the sacrifice of herself will do, her daughter tells her. News (false) arrives of the death of Orest, and Elektra knows she will have to take revenge single-handed, her sister being too frightened to help her. A man enters the courtyard, and slowly Elektra recognizes her brother. She will not let him hold her—she is ashamed of the way she looks after living rough. She impresses on him that it is his duty to avenge their father. While he is in the palace killing Klytamnestra, Aegisth arrives at the gates. Elektra offers to light his way into the palace, and then hears his screams as he meets the same fate as her mother. Elektra's wild dance of triumph ends in her collapse and death. Aria: Allein! Weh, ganz allein ('Alone! Alas, all alone'); Was bluten muss? ('What blood must flow'); Orest! Orest! ('Orestes! Orestes!'一 this is the famous Recognition Scene, as Elektra realizes that news of his death was false and he is nowhere to help her avenge their father). Created (1909) by Annie Krull.
In Greek mythology, Elektra was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and thus princess of Argos. She and her brother Orestes plotted revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father.
Electra is one of the most popular mythological characters in tragedies. She is the main character in two Greek tragedies, Electra by Sophocles and Electra by Euripides. She is also the central figure in plays by Aeschylus, Alfieri, Voltaire, Hofmannsthal, and Eugene O'Neill.
Murder of Agamemnon
Electra was absent from Mycenae when her father, King Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War. When he came back, he brought with him his war prize, the Trojan princess Cassandra, who had already borne him twin sons. Upon their arrival, Agamemnon and Cassandra were murdered, by either Clytemnestra herself, her lover Aegisthus or both. Clytemnestra had held a grudge against her husband for agreeing to sacrifice their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis so he could send his ships to fight in the Trojan war.
Eight years later, Electra was brought from Athens with her brother, Orestes. (Odyssey, iii. 306; X. 542). According to Pindar (Pythia, xi. 25), Orestes was saved by his old nurse or by Electra, and was taken to Phanote on Mount Parnassus, where King Strophius took charge of him. When Orestes was 20, the Oracle of Delphi ordered him to return home and avenge his father's death.
Murder of Clytemnestra
According to Aeschylus, Orestes saw Electra's face before the tomb of Agamemnon, where both had gone to perform rites to the dead; a recognition took place, and they arranged how Orestes should accomplish his revenge. Orestes and his friend Pylades, son of King Strophius of Phocis and Anaxibia, killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus (in some accounts with Electra helping).
Before her death, Clytemnestra cursed Orestes. The Erinyes or Furies, whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety, fulfill this curse with their torment. They pursue Orestes, urging him to end his life. Electra was not hounded by the Erinyes.
In Iphigeneia in Tauris, Euripides tells the tale somewhat differently. In his version, Orestes was led by the Furies to Tauris on the Black Sea, where his sister Iphigeneia was being held. The two met when Orestes and Pylades were brought to Iphigeneia to be prepared for sacrifice to Artemis. Iphigeneia, Orestes, and Pylades escaped from Tauris. The Furies, appeased by the reunion of the family, abated their persecution. Electra then married Pylades.
Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon, Frederic Leighton c. 1869
Elektra de Richard Strauss
Deborah Polaski (Eleklra)
Albert Oohmen (Oresl)
Soprano. Daughter of Klytämnestra and the murdered Agamemnon, sister of Elektra and Orest. She lives at the palace with Klytämnestra and Aegisth, her mother's lover and accomplice in the murder. She is the weaker of the sisters, and wants to live a full life and have children. She keeps seeing other women having children and the children growing up, while she sits with her sister like a caged bird. She wants to leave this place which is like a prison—she is so frightened that her knees shake, and she knows they would let her go if it were not for Elektra's hatred. She warns Elektra that Klytämnestra and Aegisth plan to throw her into a tower. She knows their mother is in a foul mood after having one of her bad dreams. When news (false) reaches the palace of Orest's death, Chrysothemis is terrified at the thought of having to help Elektra murder their mother. Aria: Ich kann nicht sitzen und ins Dunkel starren wie du (‘I cannot sit and stare into the dark like you’). Created (1909) by Margarethe Siems.
Chrysothemis, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.
Unlike her sister, Electra, Chrysothemis did not protest or enact vengeance against their mother for having an affair with Aegisthus and then killing their father.
Orestes kills Aegisthus. Vienna, Museum of Art History (On the left Chrysothemis).
Mezzo-soprano or contralto. She was the wife of Agamemnon, and mother of Elektra, Chrysothemis, and Orest. She helped her lover Aegisth murder Agamemnon in his bath and they now live together at the palace. They have banished Elektra to the grounds to live like an animal. The life Klytämnestra has led has left her somewhat raddled, eyelids too heavy to keep open, and she leans for support on her stick and her confidante, jewellery weighing her down. She dreams about the absent Orest coming to take revenge on her. Her nightmares keep her awake—something crawls over her, the marrow melts in her bones, she feels as if her body is rotting away. She asks Elektra what she can do to stop these dreams, and Elektra tells her they will stop when she makes a sacrifice, the sacrifice of a woman—Klytämnestra herself. The queen is terrified: she both hates and fears Elektra. News is given to her that Orest is dead and for the first time she relaxes and laughs—now she is safe. But it is false news, and Orest returns and murders her and Aegisth. Arias: Ich will nichts hören! (‘I will not listen to you!’); Ich habe keine guten Nächte (‘I have bad nights’). Christa Ludwig, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Marjana Lipovšek. Created (1909) by Ernestine Schumann‐Heink.
Clytemnestra, in Greek legend, a daughter of Leda and Tyndareus and wife of Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. She took Aegisthus as her lover while Agamemnon was away at war. Upon his return, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon. Clytemnestra was then killed by her son, Orestes, with the help of his sister Electra, in revenge for his father’s murder.
In Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon, part of his Oresteia trilogy, Clytemnestra is driven to murder Agamemnon partly to avenge the death of her daughter Iphigeneia, whom Agamemnon had sacrificed for the sake of success in the war, partly because of her adulterous love for Aegisthus and partly as an agent for the curse on Agamemnon’s family, the House of Atreus. Clytemnestra’s story is also told in plays by Sophocles and Euripides.
Clytemnestra, John Collier, 1882
Baritone. Son of Klytamnestra and Agamemnon, brother of Chrysothemis and Elektra, who sent him away to safety after their mother and her lover Aegisth murdered his father. Elektra waits for his return—she is sure he will соme and avenge their father, but news (false) reaches the palace of his death, much to Klytamnestra's relief and Elektra's distress. He arrives in the grounds and sees Elektra, but does not recognize this unkempt wild woman as his sister. Created (1909) by Carl Perron.
Orestes, in Greek mythology, son of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae (or Argos), and his wife, Clytemnestra. According to Homer, Orestes was away when his father returned from Troy to meet his death at the hands of Aegisthus, his wife’s lover. On reaching manhood, Orestes avenged his father by killing Aegisthus and Clytemnestra.
According to the poet Stesichorus, Orestes was a small child at the time of Agamemnon’s murder and was smuggled to safety by his nurse. Clytemnestra was warned of impending retribution by a dream, and Orestes, for the crime of matricide, was haunted by the Furies (Erinyes) after her death. In Aeschylus’ dramatic trilogy the Oresteia, Orestes acted in accordance with Apollo’s commands; he posed as a stranger with tidings of his own death, and, after killing his mother, he sought refuge from the Furies at Delphi. Prompted again by Apollo, he went to Athens and pleaded his case before the Areopagus. The jury divided equally, Athena gave her deciding vote for acquittal, and the Furies were placated by being given a cult in which they were called Eumenides (Kindly Ones).
In Euripides’ play Iphigenia in Tauris some of the Furies remained unappeased, and Orestes was ordered by Apollo to go to Tauris and bring the statue of Artemis back to Athens. Accompanied by his friend Pylades, he reached his goal, but they were arrested because it was the local custom to sacrifice all strangers to the goddess. The priestess in charge of the sacrifice was Orestes’ sister Iphigeneia, who instead of being sacrificed had been spirited away by Artemis; the siblings recognized each other, and they and their friend escaped together, taking the statue with them. Orestes inherited his father’s kingdom, adding to it Argos and Lacedaemon. He married Hermione, daughter of Helen and Menelaus, and eventually died of snakebite.
The story of Orestes was a favourite in ancient art and literature. Aeschylus’ Oresteia showed its dramatic potentialities, and these were further exploited by Sophocles and Euripides. Aspects of the story were also featured in the work of many later Western dramatists and composers.
Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Tenor. Husband of Queen Klytämnestra. He became her lover while her husband Agamemnon was away fighting in the Trojan War. On his return, Aegisth helped Klytämnestra to murder Agamemnon. He now lives with her in the palace and is murdered with her by her son Orest. Created (1909) by Johannes Sembach.
Aegisthus (/ɪˈdʒɪsθəs/; Ancient Greek: Αἴγισθος; also transliterated as Aigisthos, [ǎi̯ɡistʰos]) is a figure in Greek mythology. He was the son of Thyestes and his daughter, Pelopia. The product of an incestuous union motivated by his father's rivalry with the house of Atreus for the throne of Mycenae, Aegisthus murdered Atreus to restore his father to power. Later, he lost the throne to Atreus's son Agamemnon.
While Agamemnon was at the Trojan war, Aegisthus became the lover of the king's estranged wife Clytemnestra. The couple killed Agamemnon on his return. He became king of Mycenae for seven years before he was killed in his turn by Agamemnon's son Orestes.
Thyestes felt he had been deprived of the Mycenean throne unfairly by his brother, Atreus. The two battled back and forth several times. In addition, Thyestes had an affair with Atreus' wife, Aerope. In revenge, Atreus killed Thyestes' sons and served them to him unknowingly. After realizing he had eaten his own sons' corpses, Thyestes asked an oracle how best to gain revenge. The advice was to father a son with his own daughter, Pelopia, and that son would kill Atreus.
Thyestes raped Pelopia after she performed a sacrifice, hiding his identity from her. When Aegisthus was born, his mother abandoned him, ashamed of his origin, and he was raised by shepherds and suckled by a goat, hence his name Aegisthus (from αἴξ, male goat). Atreus, not knowing the baby's origin, took Aegisthus in and raised him as his own son.
Death of Atreus
In the night in which Pelopia had been raped by her father, she had taken from him his sword which she afterwards gave to Aegisthus. When she discovered that the sword belonged to her own father, she realised that her son was the product of incestuous intercourse. In despair, she killed herself. Atreus in his enmity towards his brother sent Aegisthus to kill him; but the sword which Aegisthus carried was the cause of the recognition between Thyestes and his son, and the latter returned and slew his uncle Atreus, while he was offering a sacrifice on the seacoast. Aegisthus and his father now took possession of their lawful inheritance from which they had been expelled by Atreus.
Power struggle over Mycenae
Aegisthus and Thyestes thereafter ruled over Mycenae jointly, exiling Atreus' sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus to Sparta, where King Tyndareus gave the pair his daughters, Clytemnestra and Helen, to take as wives. Agamemnon and Clytemnestra had four children: one son, Orestes, and three daughters, Iphigenia, Electra and Chrysothemis.
After the death of Tyndareus, Meneleaus became king of Sparta. He used the Spartan army to drive out Aegisthus and Thyestes from Mycenae and place Agamemnon on the throne. Agamemnon extended his dominion by conquest and became the most powerful ruler in Greece. However, when Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods before the war with Troy, Clytemnestra turned against him. While Agamemnon was away at the Trojan War, Aegisthus became Clytemnestra's lover. He helped Clytemnestra kill her husband upon his return home. In the older versions of the story, such as Homer, Aegisthus himself kills Agamemnon. In later accounts Clytemnestra stabs him when he is naked and vulnerable after a bath.
After this event Aegisthus reigned seven years longer over Mycenae. He and Clytemnestra had a son, Aletes, and two daughters, Erigone and Helen. In the eighth year of his reign Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, returned home and avenged the death of his father by killing Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. The impiety of matricide was such that Orestes was forced to flee from Mycenae, pursued by the Furies. Aletes became king until Orestes returned several years later and killed him. Orestes later married Aegisthus' daughter Erigone.
Pierre-Narcisse Guérin's Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, in which Aegisthus appears as a shadowy figure pushing Clytemnestra forward
Before the opera begins, Agamemnon has sacrificed Iphigenia on the ruse that she is to be married, and subsequently goes off to war against Troy. Iphigenia's mother Klytaemnestra has thus come to hate her husband. After his return, with the help of her paramour Aegisthus, she murders her husband and now is afraid that her crime will be avenged by her other children, Elektra, Chrysothemis and their banished brother Orest. Elektra has managed to send her brother away while remaining behind to keep her father's memory alive, but all the while, suffering the scorn of her mother and the entire court.
"Wo bleibt Elektra?" ("Where is Elektra?")
Five servants try to wash the courtyard of the Palace in Mycenae. While they do their work, they ask where can Elektra be, and she emerges from the shadows with a wild look on her face. The servants continue commenting how she came to be in that state and talk about how they taunt her only to receive insults from her. Only one servant shows mercy for her, but she is taken away by the overseer to be flogged.
"Allein! Weh, ganz allein." ("Alone! Alas, all alone.")
Elektra comes back for her daily ritual in memory of her father, who upon his return from Troy was killed while bathing by Klytaemnestra and Aegisth and dragged out into the courtyard. Elektra now starts imagining the day when her father will be avenged and then of the ensuing celebration in which she will lead the triumphal dance.
Chrysothemis leaves the Palace but, unlike Elektra, she is meek and accommodating, and has remained on good terms with Klytaemnestra and Aegisth; she enjoys the privileges that come with being a Princess. She warns her sister that their mother plans to lock Elektra in a tower, but she is rebuffed.
"Ich kann nicht sitzen und ins Dunkel starren." ("I can not sit and stare into the darkness.")
Chrysothemis does not wish to go on living a half-death in her own house: she wants to leave, marry and raise children.
"Es geht ein Lärm los." ("What tumult is this?")
As loud sounds are heard inside, Elektra mocks her sister that it is her wedding party.
"Was willst du? Seht doch, dort!" ("What do you want? Behold, there!")
In reality, Klytaemnestra has yet again been awakened by her own nightmares of being killed by Orest. Chrysothemis begs Elektra to leave, wishing only to speak to her mother. Followed by her retinue, Klytaemnestra comes to make another sacrifice to appease the gods, but she stops at the sight of Elektra and wishes that she were not there to disturb her. She asks the gods for the reason for her burdens, but Elektra appeases her by telling her mother that she is a goddess herself.
"Ich will nichts Hören!" ("I will not listen!")
Despite the protests of the Trainbearer and Confidante, Klytaemnestra climbs down to talk to Elektra.
"Ich habe keine guten Nächte." ("I have no good nights.")
Klytaemnestra confides to her daughter that she has been suffering nightmares every night and that she still has not found the way to appease the gods. But, she claims, once that happens, she will be able to sleep again.
"Wenn Das rechte Blutopfer unterm Beile fällt." ("When the right blood under the hatchet flows.")
Elektra teases her mother with little pieces of information about the right victim that must be slain, but she changes the conversation to her brother and why he is not allowed back. To Elektra’s horror, Klytaemnestra says that he has become mad and keeps company with animals. She responds that this is not true and that all the gold that her mother has sent was not being used to support her son but to have him killed.
"Was bluten muß? Dein eigenes Genick." ("Who must bleed? Your own throat.")
Then Elektra reveals who is to be the actual victim: it is Klytaemnestra herself. She goes on to describe how the gods must be appeased once and for all. She must be awakened and chased around the house just like an animal that is being hunted. Only when she wishes that all was over and after envying prisoners in their cells, she will come to realize that her prison is her own body. At that time, the axe with which she killed her husband and which will be handed to Orest by Elektra, will fall on her. Only then the dreams will stop.
"Lichter! Mehr Lichter" ("Lights! More lights!")
The Trainbearer and Confidante enter and whisper to her. Klytaemnestra laughs hysterically and, mocking Elektra, leaves. Elektra wonders what has made her mother laugh.
"Orest! Orest ist tot!" ("Orest! Orest is dead!")
Chrysothemis comes to tell her: two messengers have arrived with the news that Orest is dead, trampled by his own horses.
"Platz da! Wer lungert so vor einer Tür?" ("Give way! Who spies thus upon the threshold?")
As a young servant comes out of the house to fetch the master, he trips over Elektra and Chrysothemis.
"Nun muß es hier von uns geschehn." ("It is for us to act now.")
Elektra does not relent and a terrified Chrysothemis listens as her sister demands that she help her to avenge their father.
"Wie stark du bist." ("How strong you are.")
Elektra goes on to praise her sister and her beauty, promising that Elektra shall be her slave at her bridal chamber in exchange for the assistance in her task. Chrysothemis fights off her sister and flees. Elektra curses her.
"Nun denn, allein!" ("Well, alone!")
Determined to do it alone, she digs for the axe that killed her father, but is interrupted by a mysterious man who comes into the courtyard.
"Was willst du, fremder Mensch?" ("What do you want, stranger?")
She hears that he is expecting to be called from within the Palace because he has a message for the lady of the house. He claims to be a friend of Orest, and says that he was with him at the time of his death.
"Wer bist denn du?" ("Who are you?")
Elektra grieves. The man first guesses that she must be a blood relative of Orest and Agamemnon, then, upon asking her name, discovers she is Elektra.
Then, taken aback, she recognizes him: it is Orest who has come back in disguise. Elektra is initially ecstatic, but also ashamed of what she has become and how she has sacrificed her own royal state for the cause.
"Du wirst es tun? Allein? Du armes Kind?" ("You'll do it? Alone? Poor child?")
Orest’s Tutor comes and interrupts the siblings; their task is dangerous and anything can jeopardize it. The Trainbearer and Confidante come out of the Palace and lead Orest in.
"Ich habe ihm das Beil nicht geben können!" ("I could not give him the axe!")
A shout is heard from within the Palace, then a grim moan. Elektra smiles brightly, knowing that Orest has killed their mother.
"He! Lichter!" ("Torches there!")
Aegisth arrives, he is ecstatic to have heard that Orest is dead and wishes to speak with the messengers. Elektra happily ushers him inside the palace.
"Helft! Mörder!" ("Help! Murder!")
As Aegisth screams and calls for help, Elektra replies: "Agamemnon can hear you."
"Elektra! Schwester!" ("Elektra! Sister!")
Chrysothemis comes out of the Palace stating that Orest is inside and that he has killed Klytaemnestra and Aegisth. A massacre has begun with Orest’s followers killing those who supported Aegisth and the Queen.
"Ob ich nicht höre?" ("If I do not hear?")
Elektra is ecstatic and wants to lead the crowd to dance but at first cannot.
"Hörst du denn nicht." ("You do not hear because.")
Chrysothemis and Elektra praise their brother's feat.
"Schweig, und tanze." ("Be silent and dance.")
At last Elektra begins to dance. As she reaches the climax of her dance, she falls to the ground: Elektra is dead. Chrysothemis goes into the Palace to be with her brother. Banging on the Palace door, she calls for her brother. There is no answer.