Program booklet »Elektra«

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ELEKTRA TRAGEDY in one act Libretto HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL Based on Electra by Sophocles (413 BC)


piccolo / 3 flutes 2 oboes / cor anglais heckelphone / piccolo clarinet 4 clarinets / 2 basset horns bass clarinet / 3 bassoons contrabassoon / 4 horns 4 tubas / 6 trumpets bass trumpet / 4 trombones contrabass tuba / percussion celeste / 2 harps violin I / violin II viola / cello / double bass


Richard-Strauss-Archiv Garmisch-Partenkirchen WORLD PREMIÈRE 25 JANUARY 1909 Dresden Court Opera AUSTRIAN PREMIÈRE 24 MARCH 1909 Vienna Court Opera DURATION

1 H 45 MIN



SYNOPSIS BACKGROUND Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, and his wife Klytämnestra have four children: Iphigenia, Elektra, Chrysothemis and Orestes. When the Greek fleet is ready to set sail for Troy, a calm keeps the ships in port. Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to appease the goddess Artemis so that she will create favourable winds for his journey. Klytämnestra will never forgive her husband for this. During Agamemnon’s absence fighting for Troy, Klytämnestra enters into a relationship with Aegisth. When Agamemnon returns home, Klytämnestra and Aegisth feign a joyous welcome. They then murder the defence­less man with an axe as he sits in his bath. After her father is murdered, Elektra succeeds in bringing her young brother to safety. She herself nurses one thought: to avenge the murder.

PLOT Elektra has dissociated herself from society and above all from Aegisth and Klytämnestra; she lives in isolation, bound in her thoughts to Agamemnon. She unrelentingly nurtures her hate, counting on Orestes’ return to avenge the murder. The five maid servants, supervised by the overseer, comment on Elektra’s behaviour: spiteful, pretentious, fearful. Only the youngest maid servant stands up for Elektra and is chastened for doing so. Elektra invokes Agamemnon and goes into raptures over her bloody vision. Chrysothemis interrupts Elektra’s monologue and warns her sister: Aegisth and Klytämnestra are planning to incarcerate her in a tower. When Chrysothemis implies that she will come to terms with them in order to realize her desire to be a mother, Elektra scornfully puts her in her place.

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Plagued by memories and anxiety dreams, the restless Klytämnestra tries to talk to Elektra, hoping to find out from her what blood sacrifice or rites would bring her relief. Elektra responds tantalizingly, enigmatically, cryptically, and frightens her mother with questions about Orestes. However, when Klytämnestra is brought news by her confidante, her dread gives way to an obvious sense of triumph. Elektra is annoyed, until she learns the news from Chrysothemis – their brother Orestes is dead. Elektra refuses to believe it, but must then give credence to the messenger’s report. She decides to wreak vengeance herself, and determines that Chrysothemis should help her. With tenderness and outward affection, Elektra tries to win her sister’s support for her plan to murder Klytämnestra and Aegisth. However, Chrysothemis evades her sister, who curses her. Now Elektra is resolved to perform the deed herself. A stranger arrives, passing himself off as a messenger who has come to tell Klytämnestra of the death of Orestes. Elektra’s despair moves him to ask her name. Only then does he reveal that he is her brother – Orestes! Elektra urges him to murder the couple to avenge his father, a deed Orestes pledges to carry out swiftly. Left alone, Elektra awaits further events… Klytämnestra’s death screams and the confusion of the maid servants assure her that revenge has in part been exacted. Aegisth, fetched by the servants, wants to hear the news of Orestes’ death himself. With flattering words, Elektra guides him to the place where she knows the avenger to be, who kills him shortly thereafter. Consumed with joy that revenge has been exacted, Elektra begins a last ecstatic dance…






THE ELECTRA COMPLEX EXCLUSIVE POSSESSION – CLAIM TO POWER – ABUSE OF POWER These days, everyone knows what an Oedipus complex is: the son falls in love with his mother and sees his father as a competitor, even as an enemy, which often “blooms” into subcon­ s­cious d ­ e­sires of his death. A lot fewer people know that the same constellation appearing in reverse in girls is called an Electra complex. Sigmund Freud chose this name for his scientific discoveries because the Greek myths already included modes of behaviour which he disco­v­e­ red, al­ though in precursor form (Conrad): “stories” from a previous era, apparently not yet valid for all times. This explanation is naturally a sim­ pli­fication to some extent, but in part Freud’s concept has been developed further since then. Today, for example, we distinguish between an Oedipus or Electra situation, which is entirely normal and which everyone has to pass through as a child, namely the feeling of attraction to the parent of the opposite gender. If this goes well, it is replaced and cancelled out by identification with the parent of the same gender. If this fails to happen, however, the

Oedipal situation of the Oedipus or Electra complex becomes a patho­ ­lo­gical neurotic state. The greatest risk factor for this adverse development is a dysfunctional family – if the mother forces the link on her son (because she needs it for her own emotional life) or if the father for any of a thousand possible reasons proves to be too weak as a role model (for girls, the same model applies in reverse). In any case, it is inappro­ priate to hold the child responsible for this if the situation becomes a complex… That Electra suffers from the complex that now bears her name is clear from the introductory monologue in which the mighty Straussian Agamemnon motif sounds for the first time. We can only conjecture the reason behind it – the towering, impressive figure of the hero father and a mother who clearly was unable from the start to bond with her emotionally and who – together with her lover Aegisthus – murdered the father in his bath on his late return from Troy. Here it is very easy to understand that the unconscious death wishes that



Electra may have had against her mother as a child can evolve into entirely conscious murderous intentions. And yet there is a problem here which we should not forget with all “complexes” – the influence of society, which in Greek legend is extensively represented by the “gods”. The Greek fleet intending to sail to Troy can only get a fair wind if Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia. Clytemnestra can never forgive Agamemnon for this. He valued the “patriarchal” war more than saving his own flesh and blood, and this will haunt him for the rest of his life. Here, one final adjustment is need­ ed to how we view the Oedipus and Electra complexes in our time. We can no longer interpret them in purely sexual terms, as Freud did, and we need to add the dimension of “power”. The boy wants sole possession of his mother, the girl of her father. Alfred Adler was the first to see this and recog­ nize how an unhealthy claim to and abuse of power can evolve. In this sense,

Elektra as seen by von Hofmannsthal and Strauss is about the exercise of power, and the transformation of her fragility into domination. She can hardly bear it that the malefactors were not murdered with her axe, and after her frenzy of revenge has passed she dies, following one of Adler’s sayings – “Those who strive for power are condemned to die sooner or later.” Avoiding the Oedipus or Electra complex by identifying with the parent of the same gender is a very wise natural move, as this teaches us to accept psychologically the role we have been as­ signed physiologically. For women, gender equality is an important goal which is unfortunately still far from achieved. But they should not give up their femininity for this, as doing so leads to be­ haviour which Adler rightly described as neurotic “masculine protest”. As Chrysothemis says, “I am a woman and I want a woman’s lot in life” – without any disparagement, it should be said.



IT WASN’T AS EASY AS THAT THE CREATION OF THE OPERA ELEKTRA When Hans Pfitzner once complained how much time and effort his opera Palestrina had taken, Richard Strauss, who was present, is said to have grumbled “Why do you compose if it’s so much trouble?” to his disliked col­ league. It’s hardly possible to say if this actually happened in this way – but if it did, Richard Strauss probably had forgotten how much time and effort his own Elektra had cost him. The fear of falling short of Salome’s quality clearly plagued Strauss to the point where the work sometimes lay untouched for weeks, or made little progress. It all started with a visit to the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in late 1905, where Strauss saw a performance of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s play Elektra, directed by Max Reinhardt, and decided it was suitable material for an opera. In contrast to the version with the same name by Sophocles, Hofmannsthal focused on the psychological dimen­ sion of the mythological figures, par­ ti­cu­ larly incorporating his reading of the studies of hysteria by Breuer and Freud in the character of Electra. (Inte­rest­ingly, Electra’s sexual trauma,

openly addressed by Hofmannsthal, was elimi­nated by Strauss in the opera version with the librettist’s agreement.) The historic first working meeting between Strauss and Hofmannsthal took place on 2 February 1906, marking not only the beginning of the creation of their opera Elektra, but also the start of a congenial partnership that would last for years. About a month later, Strauss was still industrious, announc­ ing that “he had pulled to­ gether a workable version” of the Elektra play. But after that, everything ground to a halt. It was up to Hofmannsthal to allay the doubts that Strauss might not have the reserves to get the most out of the material again, and to motivate his creative partner, at least to make a start on the composition. Strauss finally set to in June 1906, but soon broke off again. Reading the correspondence where Strauss repeat­ edly comes back to his efforts to find the right form for the material, you can see the sweat on his brow – the brow of a man who saw it as a mark of quality that even conductors should not sweat while conducting, let alone composers



while composing. While Strauss did start on the score in autumn 1907, virtually at the same time he was demanding text revisions and additions from Hofmannsthal, who delivered them as requested. It took over two and a half years in all for the one-act opera Elektra to be finished in September 1908. What emerged was an unusually modern work for its time, with a radi­ cally expressive musical language which still showed the traditional

major-minor characteristics, but whose polytonality and hard dissonances took it close to the boundaries of atonality... Although the reception of the world première in Dresden (25 January 1909) was not as enthusiastic as many had hoped, the piece still won itself an international place relatively quick­ly – although Elektra only became a “re­qui­red” part of the repertoire after the Second World War.



A REMINDER TO US ALL Hofmannsthal was a striking figure, temperamental, middle height, dark with fiery eyes. The blood of Milanese patricians flowed in his veins, an inheritance from his mother’s side. In appearance, he was a man of the world, of impeccable behaviour – an artistic aristocrat! Internally, however, there was the passionate obsession with exploring the secrets of life. He was gripped by strong dissatisfaction with what the world offered him and what he was able to offer the world. It was not easy to get close to him. He was very withdrawn – dry, even – very serious and always concerned to preserve appearances. Fateful relationships with people were more of an artistic, abstract, intellectual nature. A desire for genuine humanity and a deep responsibility in life and actions is only apparent in his poetry. He was very spoiled by his mother, and the conventional coldness with which he frequently brushed off small gestures and loving care may have inspired the figure of the Mother in Der Tor und der Tod. Meeting Max Reinhardt aroused strong impulses in him, but he was unable to free himself entirely from the past. His works have to be understood in the light of this struggle and the effects of the powerful tension. It is barely conceivable that he should have created such a mature and deep work as Der Tor und der Tod at 19. It is easy enough to recognize the poet in the figure of Claudio – who is the only living character in the piece, apart from his servant. The decisive thing, however, is that Claudio does not cling to an attitude of despising life, but in the hour of his death realizes the possibilities for happiness in life. He recognizes that life is experiencing happiness and want, that to be a human being means binding and being bound. In this, Hofmannsthal reminds us all not to withdraw into ourselves unproductively, living lovelessly, but to enjoy to the full the happiness of life in loving another, to be always ready to comfort and be comforted.





RECOLLECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS THE FIRST PERFORMANCE OF MY OPERA ELEKTRA When I first saw Hofmannsthal’s inspired play at the Deutsche Theater with Gertrud Eysoldt, I immediately recognized, of course, what a magnificent operatic libretto it might be (after the alteration I made in the Orestes scene it has actually become one) and, just as previously with Salome, I appreciated the tremendous increase in musical tension to the very end; in Elektra, after the recognition scene, which could only be completely realized in music, the release in dance – in Salome, after the dance (the heart of the plot), the dreadful apotheosis at the end. – Both operas offered wonderful musical points of attack: SALOME

The contrasts: the court of Herod, Jochanaan, the Jews, the Nazarenes ELEKTRA The possessed goddess of vengeance contrasted with the radiant character of her mortal sister SALOME The three seduction songs of Salome, Herod’s three persuasive speeches, Salome’s ostinato: “Ich will den Kopf des Jochanaan” (I want the head of Jochanaan) ELEKTRA The first monologue; the unending climaxes The scene Elektra-Chrysothemis The scene Elektra-Klytämnestra But at first I was put off by the idea that both subjects were very similar in psychological content, so that I doubted

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whether I should have the power to exhaust this subject also. But the wish to contrast this possessed, exalted Greece of the 6th century with Winckelmann’s Roman copies and Goethe’s humanism outweighed these doubts, and Elektra became even more intense in the unity of structure and in the force of its climaxes – I am almost tempted to say that it is to Salome what the more flawless, and stylistically more uniform Lohengrin is to the inspired first venture of Tannhäuser. Both operas are unique in my life’s works, in them I penetrated to the uttermost limits of harmony, psychological polyphony (Klytämnestra’s dream) and of the receptivity of modern ears. The performance of Elektra had again been extremely carefully prepared by the conscientious Schuch. Schuch was famous for his elegant performances of Italian and French operas and as a discreet accompanist. He had perfected this praiseworthy art to such a pitch that under him even Wagner’s scores sounded a little undistinguished. One hardly ever heard a real fortissimo from the brass of this exemplary Dresden orchestra. Since at that time, thirty-five years ago, I was still enamoured of the Teutonic ff, I was stupid enough to find fault during rehearsals with Schuch’s euphonious (but not incisive) brass, which annoyed him. I insisted that hearing my score for the first time I should hear the whole complexity of the score, completely forgetting that such complicated polyphony will only become quite plastic and lucid after years, when the orchestra has it almost by heart. Schuch, being a friend of the poor ‘declaiming’ singers, had already toned down the orchestra in the first few rehearsals to such an extent that it sounded too colourless for my liking, although the singers at least could be heard. My continued insistence on secondary thematic parts annoyed Schuch so much that he played with such fury during the dress rehearsal that I was forced to make the humble confession: “The orchestra was really a little too strong today.” “You see,” said Schuch triumphantly, and the first performance had perfect balance! Only Frau Schumann-Heink (the famous Wagner singer) who gave a guest performance as Klytämnestra was shown to be miscast. I cannot use old ‘stars’ – I was beginning to realize at that time how fundamentally my



vocal style differs even from that of Wagner. My vocal style has the pace of a stage play and frequently comes into conflict with the figuring and polyphony of the orchestra, so that none but the best conductors, who themselves know something of singing, can establish the balance of volume and speed between singer and baton. The struggle between word and music has been the pro­blem of my life right from the beginning, which Capriccio solves with a question mark! The first performance was a succès d’éstime, but, as usual, I did not learn this until later. Angelo Neumann even wired to Prague, “Failure”. Many now consider Elektra the acme of my work. Others give their vote to Frau ohne Schatten! The majority swear by Der Rosenkavalier. One must be content to have achieved so much as a German composer.





RAGING DISSO­NANCES, CONFUSED AND ARCHAIC GRANDIOSITY ELEKTRA AND THE WIENER STAATSOPER The Viennese public had the oppor­ tunity to see Elektra at the Vienna Court Opera on 24 March 1909, just two months after the world première. The contract for the performance had been signed by director Felix von Weingartner months before the Dresden world première, even though Weingartner, himself a successful composer and conductor, was not a great partisan of Strauss’s music. On hearing the music to Elektra, for example, he tried to “ignore the raging dissonances”, as he noted in his autobiography. Consequently, Weingartner did not conduct the Viennese première himself, but left this (in retrospect, impor­ tant) task to his Kapellmeister Hugo Reichenberger. Weingartner hesi­ tated for a long time over the final casting of the main roles – he had the greatest difficulty with the title role in particular. Marie Gutheil-Schoder was one possibility, but he did not want to ruin her voice with Elektra, keeping her for other roles. Finally, at an audition

he discovered the young, more lyric American singer Lucille Marcel, and promptly booked her for the title role in the Strauss opera. (Shortly after, he fell in love with her and married her somewhat later.) The other roles were taken by the great Anna von Bahr-Mildenburg (Klytämnestra), Lucie Weidt (Chryso­ themis), Friedrich Weidemann (Orestes) and the major Wagner tenor Erik Schmedes (Aegisth). In this first production, the imposing set made a great impression. This was designed by the celebrated Alfred Roller, who incidentally failed to follow Hofmannsthal’s original specifications for the set. These explicitly rejected “columns, wide stairs, stereotypical notions of ancient times”, to avoid impairing the necessary atmosphere of “narrowness, inevitability, isolation”. Roller’s successful set design, although ultimately false, because of its archaic evocation of antiquity in the imagery, had a decisive influence on the visual components of the recep­



tion of Elektra in Vienna and internationally in the following decades. In contrast to the performers in the première cast, whom he praised, Julius Korngold had virtually nothing good to say about the music of Elektra in his notorious review. To document the falling off in quality from the earlier Salome, he began the review as it ended, with the ironically modified quote “How fair was princess Salome”. In between there are detailed explanations of the weaknesses and even ugly moments in the Elektra score. A little over a year after the Vienna première, Strauss mounted the podium at the Court Opera on 19 June 1910 to conduct a celebrated performance of his Elektra. This time, Korngold effectively followed the saying enthusiastically spread later about the quality of Rachmaninoff’s works depending on the performer – “If the brilliant composer is the interpreter, this improves the piece” – taking a significantly milder tone in his review: “Richard Strauss was the conductor, and the score shone, becoming warmer and more euphonious. He disentangled apparent confusion, softened realism, broadly emphasized, sustained the lyric orchestral cantilena with tender love, threw himself, with irresistible vigour but without brutality into the dramatic high points. In the Bacchanalian finale – the most important moment in Elektra for us, because it springs from Strauss’s inmost musical nature – the composer as conductor seemed to be carried away by the marvellous orchestra and carried the audience with him. The resulting applause was on a level seldom heard, even in this appreciative house. Strauss must have taken at least two do-

zen curtain calls.” If Hugo Reichenberger, conductor of the Viennese première, suffered from self-doubt, this review must have plunged him entirely into a deeper crisis… Conductor Clemens Krauss chose significantly slower tempi than Strauss (who conducted 28 more performances of Elektra before 1931) when he conducted a new production of the piece on 4 March 1932. Under his baton every detail of the complex polyphonic structure emerged, together with the subtleties of the in­ strumentation. Krauss was less concerned with the intoxicating momentum than the ec­­­s­tatic aspect of each moment, so that he sometimes seemed to hold up the flow. The Viennese public enjoyed this very broad but transparent reading of the score as much as the Chrysothemis of his wife, Viorica Ursuleac, and Lothar Wallerstein’s production. Rose Pauly in the title role was impressive, despite a number of uncertainties. The carefully rehearsed scene with the maids was well received, after falling signifi­­­ cantly short of the desired musical standard in the last performances of the first production. The changes made by Robert Kautsky in Roller’s set were less successful – for example, he cre­ ated a window opening in the massive masonry, and added an additional storey to the structure. After the National Socialists invaded and seized power, Lothar Wallerstein’s name was no longer permitted to appear in print, a so-called new production was staged under on April 9, 1940 under Hans Knappertsbusch. The issue of the stage director was resolved by simply noting the name of the director of the opera house – Erwin Kerber – on the evening’s programm.



After the end of the Second World War, it took four years before Elektra was performed again at the Wiener Staatsoper, in its tempo­ rary quarters at the Theater an der Wien. Adolph Mott’s production with Robert Kautsky’s sets premièred on 25 May, conducted by Rudolf Moralt. While people seemed happy that an impor­ tant step had been taken in the resto­ ration of a programme worthy of the Wiener Staatsoper, the design was only partially satisfying. For example, there were problems with the stairs that cut off the hallshaped set at the apron, and with the late antiquity stylized costumes. The review in Neues Österreich commented on this. “The monumental linearity of the action is fragmented in a constant movement up and down the stairs, and Chrysothemisʼs scream of anguish ‘Orestes!’ and her hammering on the bronze door leak away into a meaningless exit. There is even room for criticism in the costumes, which are from the late antiquity or Byzan­tine period, not pre-Grecian, Minoan.” When it came to the casting, this was starstudded: Anny Konetzni as Elektra, Paul Schöffler as Orestes, Max Lorenz as Aegisth, Elisabeth Höngen as Klytämnestra and Judith Hellwig as Chrysothemis. But even Konetzni’s performance failed to fully satisfy – many missed the demonic-dangerous aspect, the obsession, and the intoxicated triumph at the end of the opera. The great Strauss expert Karl Böhm took over the production in his second, very brief period as director seven years later at the re­ opened Wiener Staatsoper, and personally conducted the revival there (8 April, 1956). This time, the cast was

Christel Goltz (Elektra), Hilde Zadek (Chrysothemis), Margarete Klose (Klytämnestra), Edmond Hurshell (Orestes) and Max Lorenz again (Aegisth). For the Elektra première on 16 December 1965, Wieland Wagner created sets aiming at archaic grandiosity, although he happily emphasized Sigmund Freud’s influence on Elektra during the rehearsals for the new production. For Wagner, “Klytämnestra was the model of the deeply wounded mother creature, Elektra the model of the tie with the father, Chrysothemis and Orestes representations of sophistry, and the opera Elektra itself is the end of a line of development of music theatre.” Although Vienna’s opera lovers were proud in retrospect of having had several Wieland Wagner productions in the programme (besides Elektra, Salome, Lohengrin and the Fliegender Holländer, quasi-posthumously rehearsed by his wife Gertrud), these were rejected – particularly the Elektra production – by the audiences and the press at the time. The former head of dramaturgy at Wiener Staatsoper, Marcel Prawy, savagely described the Wieland Wagner production as “criminal distortion”. By contrast, the musical side of the new production had a triumphant reception. Right from the start, Karl Böhm’s conducting demonstrated enormous potential for tension, a sophisticated musical drama­­ turgy, and a driving momentum that supported the action. The dramatic intensity of the interpretation was so great that it enables the listener to experience the action even on a CD that has since appeared on the ORFEO label. Even so, there was never any danger of overpower­



ing the singers. As if performed by a chamber orchestra, the motifs, groups of instruments and individual voices were all so transparent, that many musical connections were identifiable, perhaps for the first time, and the orchestral responses to the current action on stage were more clearly perceptible than usual. Franz Endler summarized the result in his review. “This time, Böhm conducted… and the result was a towering musical performance, more musical than any of the great Elektra interpretations in recent years.” Norbert Tschulik wrote in the Wiener Zeitung: “Böhm learned how it should be done from Strauss himself.” The chamber music, transparent approach (Strauss once told the musi­ cians at an Elektra rehearsal in Munich, “Play softly on the night – it’s composed very loudly anyway”) in Böhm’s interpretation even allows the singers unrestrictedly nuanced interpretation, paired with great clarity of enunciation, from the very strongly cast quintet of maids (Margarita Lilowa, Margareta Sjöstedt, Margarete Ast, Gundula Janowitz, Gerda Scheyrer) to the individual soloists in the main roles. Birgit Nilsson (the most soughtafter dramatic soprano of the time, who performed virtually all her great roles at the Wiener Staatsoper) sang the title role. Before this production, she had only performed Elektra in Stockholm (more accurately, “tried out”) in order to arrive to the new Vienna production with the role already in her voice. Her success here prompted her to finally include the role in her repertoire. To give just one quote from the uniformly positive reviews, again from Norbert Tschulik: “Birgit Nilsson sang Elektra in this première, and triumphed over

all difficulties. Her voice is a unique phenomenon of size and brilliance. She raises her voice effortlessly, with radiant power and no loss of beauty on any note.” The other major roles were filled by singers loved and celebrated in Vienna and internationally, headed by Leonie Rysanek, who gave a melodious and poetic performance as Chrysothemis. The other female Atrides was sung by the expressive American soprano Regina Resnik, known here for a broad repertoire ranging from the Baroque to Strauss roles. Like Leonie Rysanek with Chrysothemis, Resnik had also sung Klytämnestra in Vienna frequently before the 1965 première. By contrast, the later director of the Wiener Staatsoper and Volksoper Eberhard Waechter débuted as Orestes, while still in possession of the beauty and expressiveness of his (sadly prematurely brittle) timbre. The prominent Wagner tenor Wolfgang Windgassen sang the relatively small role of Aegisth, delivering a gripping character study. In the next two decades there were more than 80 performances of this production (as well as various additional Wiener Staatsoper guest performances, such as the one in Montreal to mark the 1967 World Exposition). The next new production of Elektra premièred on 10 June 1989, during Claus Helmut Drese’s time as general director. The production’s director was Harry Kupfer, and musical director Claudio Abbado conducted his first Strauss opera, with what was regarded as an “unusual ensemble for Elektra”: Éva Marton in the title role, Cheryl Studer as Chrysothemis and Brigitte Fassbaender as Klytämnestra. Schaver­ noch’s set shows a gigantic statue of



Agamemnon, visible only from the knees downwards, which dominates the action, and reduces the actual performers by comparison to “tiny puppets”, as the press wrote. Public opinion was initially divided, and although the production was highly rated in later years, the lead team was confronted by loud booing at the première. The only real successes were Franz Grundheber as Orestes, James King as Aegisth and Brigitte Fassbaender, as noted earlier. In 2015 this production was replaced by one by Uwe Eric Laufenberg, who moved the action to a Viennese coal cellar at the start of the 20th century. The public consistently rejected this right up to the final performance. Nevertheless, Nina Stemme had a great personal triumph in the title role under the baton of Mikko Franck, and Falk Struckmann as Orestes and Anna Larsson as Klytämnestra also im­­

pressed with their interpretations. Anne Schwanewilms, the scheduled Chryso­ themis, fell ill just before the dress rehearsal, so that the première was only saved by the successful and passion­­ ate substitution of ensemble member Regine Hangler. In September 2020 there was finally a revival of the popular Kupfer production, which replaced the unfortunate predecessor and successor staging, and also brought back Franz Welser-Möst as conductor. Harry Kupfer was scheduled to revise this Elektra more than 30 years after its première with Ricarda Merbeth, Camilla Nylund and Doris Soffel. Unfortunately, his death on 30 December, 2019 made this impossible. Angela Brandt, a long-time collaborator of Kupfer’s who he chose for this production, followed his intentions in the production, as a testimonial and memorial to the great theatremaker.





MUSIC THAT COMES FROM SOMEONE If you talk to people about Richard Strauss’s Elektra, the conversation always turns to the recognition scene between Orestes and the protagonist. It’s not surprising, since this passage is one of the most touching, most moving and “strongest” in opera. For me, however, there’s a moment in the opera which relates even more directly to the core of the drama, Elektra’s character and the base questions of the piece, and in many respects if the key to understanding the whole opera. This is a sentence by Elektra at the end of the piece, the answer to Chryso­ themis’s question whether she hears the noise, the general rejoicing at Orestes’s return? Elektra replies, “Do I hear the music? It comes from me!” A central passage! Because every­ thing that happens on this evening, all the action happens with her, comes from her, in her head. This is what Hofmannsthal meant in his libretto, when he gave Elektra these final words, and this is what Strauss meant in the music that follows. This is a Dionysian, intoxicated dance which says everything about Elektra and her obsessive love of her father, but also about the incredible inner force that the character has – not only in Strauss, but forever, since Ancient Greece. But what is this dance? Pure happi­ ness? Liberation? Rapture? And are DEREK WELTON as OREST

there sorrowful aspects? If you listen closely, you hear how the motif of the sacrifice appears and becomes more and more dominant. It starts in the double basses and celli, and increasingly spreads to the whole orchestra. Elektra becomes the sacrifice of her own compulsive desire for revenge. This is why there is the stage direction at the end of the opera “Elektra collapses” – she has completed the task she set herself, revenge. What’s left for her to do but die? And the fact that Strauss ends in a radiant C major is simply the musical description of the protagonist burning up. The speechless nature of the dance at the end of the opera in turn points out not only the impossibility of adding to what has already been done, but also the aspect of the illogical in myth generally. Nothing needs explanation, because it can be understood intuitively or is simply impossible to explain. Because what is myth? It’s the dream of a people. And dreams can possibly be interpreted, you can shed some light on them, but they are not tied to the logic of a waking day, they are free. Capturing the freedom from logic in rational words is something the authors of the opera did not wish to do. That is why the music – and only the music – speaks at this point.



The closeness of the opera to the trailblazing studies of hysteria by Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer, first published in 1895, is not only obvious, but belongs to the innermost core of the piece. What is Elektra if not Sigmund Freud set to music? Just think of what is being dealt with between Klytämnestra and Elektra, and between Chryso­ themis and Elektra, even the scene with the maids is gripping, with its psychological underlay. Basically, the whole opera is a psychological whodunnit! And this is why I find the above passage so essential! If I were a director, I would set the whole opera in a giant head, as the inside view of the brain, the psyche, the spirit of Elektra. This basic psychological impulse is not limited to the stage, it extends to the characters in the plot, to us performers. In the process of studying it, which takes me deep into the interior of the work, I have to open myself to the intensive forces of the opera, and become intimately close to the characters, their desires, drives, hopes and motivations. I am caught up by the work, its characters and live in this apparent reality, which constantly circles around me. I can’t simply put the score down and escape from the context. This is a fruitful state, although at times burdensome, when it involves oppressive subjects like those in Elektra. This opera strikes at the nerves, particularly in retrospect. Klytämnestra isn’t the only one to have sleepless nights – they affect the conductor too.

Particularly in such moments the question is how the conductor deals with intoxication? Do they stand back from it? Or can they let themselves be carried away by it? Here, I always like to quote the great Fritz Kortner, who once said to his actors, “On stage, you don’t have to weep – but the audience does.” Wise advice! Because we are there to bring the audience so close to a piece that they are captured by it. We as performers must also be moved, but this cannot be allowed to get in our way. It must always be clear that I have a function as a conductor, and I have to perform this. Particularly with Strauss! Between the ecstatic moments and the occasionally huge orchestral apparatus with all its colours, exact compliance with form, order and the boundaries is absolutely essential if you want to avoid the risk of the work slipping out of control with its intensive expression so that everything collapses in an uncontrolled impression of sound. Incidentally, this is an unusually draining opera, including for the conductor! It’s not surprising that Karajan declared with reference to the physical and mental challenges that you should let it lie after 60. I will follow this advice, not at 60, but not much later. With a touch of sadness, but the comforting knowledge that recognizing that everything has its season allows greater concentration on the present moment.




ELEKTRA SEASON 2023/24 PREMIÈRE OF THE PRODUCTION 10 JUNE 1989 Publisher WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien Director DR. BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Music Director PHILIPPE JORDAN Administrative Director DR. PETRA BOHUSLAV General Editors SERGIO MORABITO, ANDREAS LÁNG, OLIVER LÁNG Design & concept EXEX Layout & typesetting MIWA MEUSBURGER Cover concept MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN All performance photos by MICHAEL PÖHN Printed by PRINT ALLIANCE HAV PRODUKTIONS GMBH, BAD VÖSLAU TEXT REFERENCES Synopsis (from the première-programme 1989) - Erwin Ringel The Electra complex (from the première-programme 1989) – Andreas Láng: It wasn't as easy as that (from the Elektra-programme 2015) – Gertrud Eysoldt: A reminder to all of us (Excerpt from a lecture she gave in 1949) – Richard Strauss Recollections and reflections (Zürich 1949) - Andreas Láng: Raging dissonances, confused and archaic grandiosity (from the Elektra-programme 2015) - Franz Welser-Möst: Music that comes from someone. IMAGE REFERENCE Cover: IMAGNO / Christian Skrein / Getty Images ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS Andrew Smith. Reproduction only with approval of Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Dramaturgy. Abbreviations are not marked. Holders of rights who were unavailable regarding retrospect compensation are requested to make contact.

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