Elektra (opera)

Elektra
Opera by Richard Strauss
Marianne Eklöf as Klytaemnestra in Elektra and the Royal Swedish Opera choir 2009.jpg
Marianne Eklöf as Klytaemnestra (center) in Elektra. Royal Swedish Opera production in 2009.
LibrettistHugo von Hofmannsthal
LanguageGerman
Based onSophocles' Electra
Premiere
25 January 1909 (1909-01-25)

Elektra, Op. 58, is a one-act opera by Richard Strauss, to a German-language libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal,[1] 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 Königliches Opernhaus on 25 January 1909. It was dedicated to his friends Natalie and Willy Levin.[2]

While based on ancient Greek mythology, the opera is highly modernist and expressionist in style. 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.[3] 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.[4] Ståle Wikshåland has analysed the use of time and temporality in the dramaturgy of Elektra.[5]

Elektra is the second of Strauss's two highly modernist operas (the other being Salome),[6][full citation needed] characterized by cacophonous sections and atonal leitmotifs.[7][full citation needed] These works contrast highly with his earliest operas and his later period. The reception of Elektra in German-speaking countries was mostly divided along traditionalist and modernist lines.[7]

Performance history

Elektra is one of the most frequently performed operas based on classical Greek mythology, with a performance lasting—like the composer's earlier Salome—around 100 minutes.[8] 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 at the first- ever performance of a Strauss opera in the UK.[9] 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.[citation needed] The opera made its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 3, 1932, with Gertrude Kappel singing the title role and Artur Bodanzky conducting. [10]