STRAUSS'S EGYPTIAN HELEN
New York Metropolitan Opera Broadcast
Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 29th of April 2007 at 3pm
It seems that someone has been trying to protect me from this luscious (not to say lascivious?) opera all my life. I have never seen or heard it, though I am an avid admirer of Richard Strauss. I have recordings of nearly all his operas, including his first one (Guntram), but not his Egyptian Helena. It is one of the six that have Hugo von Hofmannsthal as librettist (Elektra, Rosenkavalier, Ariadne, Frau ohne Schatten, Helena, Arabella). I have to admit that Salome is the only one I have seen in a theatre!
Have a look at the pictures under PERFORMERS and STORYLINE, and gaze at the new trimline version of Deborah Voigt as Helen of Troy (so-called because she was living illicitly with Paris alias Alexander, prince of Troy alias Ilias) the wife of the King of Sparta, namely Menelaus (here he is called Menelas, as in Offenbach's La Belle Hélène).
The plot revolves around King Menelas's desire for revenge on Helen and Paris. Magic trickery is used to make him forget the treachery (a potion like the one Siegried got), causing him to believe that it was not Helen but a substitute who was with Paris, while the true Helen was far away for ten years in the Sleeping Beauty position, waiting for Menelas to come and awaken her with his kiss; but reconciliation is achieved when Menelas comes to his senses and forgives her. He introduces her to their daughter Hermione, and the family goes home happily.
And why is this opera called "The Egyptian Helen"? My take on it is that the real Helen was allegedly in Egypt for the duration of the war, while the fake Helen was in Troy with Paris, so that the true Helen (who was true to her husband) was the one in Egypt. However, the adjective "Egyptian" is misleading; Helen was still Hellenic, not Egyptian.
A long essay on it is provided for the occasion by the NYMetropera (click BACKGROUND above). I can not get hold of a libretto, but the performance is in German and not in ancient dress (see STORYLINE).