Sunday, January 17, 2010


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 29th of May 2016 at 6.05 pm

Sunday 17th of January 2010 at 3-5 pm
Sunday 10th of June 2007 at 3pm

STRAUSS: Elektra, an opera in one act
Elektra, the eldest daughter of the late king Agamemnon, is obsessed with thoughts of her father’s murder at the hands of her mother, Klytemnestra, and her mother’s lover, Aegisth, and she longs for revenge
Elektra......................... Nina Stemme
Chrysothemis............... Adrianne Pieczonka
Aegisth........................ Burkhard Ulrich
Klytämnestra............... Waltraud Meier
Orest............................ Eric Owens
Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Elektra.......................... Susan Bullock
Chrysothemis................ Deborah Voigt
Klytemnestra................. Felicity Palmer
Orestes......................... Evgeny Nikitin
Aegisth.......................... Wolfgang Schmidt
Overseer....................... Susan Neves
Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch/Fabio Luisi

LIBRETTO (English)

The great "live" "electric" recording of this work ("sonic stage", done in a studio with no audience!) is Solti's version with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and with soprano Birgit Nilsson continually overwhelming them. This opera is loud, and there are no pretty waltzes; only Elektra's frenetic dance at the end, after which she collapses into a rigid state. The only tune to whistle is the three strident notes at the very beginning, the third of them held for a a while.

The author of the original drama of Elektra was Sophocles. This new version was created by the dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), and this libretto was set to music by Richard Strauss (1864-1949).

Strauss knew that Elektra (1909) was very similar to his Salome (1905); both a have an obsessed woman who does a dance at the end) and that worried him; but this was the time of Freud, and psychological analysis was sneaking into opera.

{The background notes, listed in links at the bottom of this page, are from the NY Metropera archives, now closed to us}. In GREEK TRAGEDY we read about the origin of Greek drama in the orgiastic alcoholic festivals of Dionysios/ Bacchus; we learn that a "protagonist" was not the main character but the actor who got all the best speeches, changing masks for each role; "tragedy" means "goat-song" (to go with a sacrifice); "satirical" means "connected with a satyr play".

Incidentally, this ill-fated fury-driven vengeance-seeking Elektra with the ax is the same Elektra who was unlucky in love in Mozart's Idomeneo.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) ELEKTRA (1909)
Notes on a film version
The opera is a noisy shocker with a crazed “heroine”, like SALOME.
It is “a tragedy in one act”, two hours with no intermissions, no relief from the relentless pursuit of revenge.  Christopher Doig (from New Zealand) will appear as a singing servant, and in the final section  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau will enter as Orest(es), the son of King Agamemnon of Mycenae and Queen Klytemnestra,  and the long-lost brother of Elektra. The Queen has done away with the King in favour of her paramour Aegistheus. Elektra  (Leonie Rysanek) has an ax ready for Orestes to slaughter the murderers.
   The action begins with the maidservants and their overseer  at the well in the courtyard. They  are speaking disrespectfully of Elektra and her unseemly behaviour; they can not understand why she is permitted to stay on at the palace. One young maid defends the princess and rebukes the others. For this she is whipped.
   Elektra invokes the spirit of her father Agamemnon; every day, at the hour when he was slain in his bath, she performs this ritual; she envisions the “magnificent banquet” when vengeance has been wreaked; the word “blood” occurs often in her muttering; and there will be a right royal dance of triumph at that time.
    Her sister Khrysothemis  (Catarina Legendza) interrupts her reverie; she warns her elder sister about provoking their mother, as this is disturbing the peace of the household; for herself, she simply wants a husband (a peasant will do) so that she can bear children and be a normal mother.
   Inside the palace, noises indicate that the Queen has had her nightmare about being pursued by Orestes, and she is coming out to make a sacrifice and find peace.
   Khrysothemis withdraws fearfully, but Elektra remains to confront her mother.

Princess Elektra (Leonie Rysanek) is waiting (with an ax) for her brother Orestes to return home to Mycenae and avenge the murder of their father Agamemnon by their mother Klytemnestra and Aegisthus. Elektra has performed her daily rite of invoking the spirit of her father; she has rebuked her sister Khrysothemis for wanting to settle down to a quiet family life and forget the past.
   Now comes a confrontation between mother and daughter. Klytemnestra (Astrid Varnay) relates all her troubles to Elektra: sleepless nights, nightmares, diseases (all caused by her guilt and remorse).
E says that a sacrifice is needed: a woman.
Who should perform it?
E: A man.
K: Aegisthus?
E: I said a MAN. (She means Orestes). Why has he not come home? K has been sending gold to his minders, but apparently he is a madman who lives with the farm animals. No, the payment was for his murder, E says, and you know he is coming back. But K says she has guards at her door.
E turns nasty and terrifies K with visions of the ax.
   An attendant brings news which comforts K: Orestes is dead. Or is he?
   A stranger arrives with his guardian, and eventually he reveals himself to Elektra.
   In a short scene a young servant (Christopher Doig!) demands a horse, or a mule, or even a cow, to be saddled, as he needs to deliver an important message.
  Twenty  disturbing discordant minutes of music remaining, but it ends in C major!
  At last the deed is done (a double murder, and that explains the singular verb).
  And what about that blessèd ax?  And will Elektra do her famous dance at the end (not as notorious as the dance of Salomé)?
(A reminder: this is a film, not a theatre performance.)

Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 10th of June 2007 at 3pm

Gerda Lammers, Hedwig Müller-Bülow
Conductor : Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976, admired for his interpretations of Strauss and Wagner, and the beautiful sounds he produced from orchestras)
This is a recording from Covent Garden in 1958 (of course, it is so special because it is "live!!", possibly meaning we will hear the cries of the sellers from the fruit and vegetable markets, as well as the audience reactions with applause, but certainly no laughter, because this is a rocky horror show without the laughs). It is from the Royal Opera House Heritage Series, recordings made in the 1950s (the sound may be "dead" but the performance will be "live"). The excerpt they have been playing for us is "monophonic", not "stereophonic", but, nevertheless, notwithstanding, it has been "digitally remastered". Wow! Yet, if it was a satisfactory "analogue" recording, some of us would prefer that they kept their dirty digits off it.





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