Elektra





In one act by HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL.



Music by RICHARD STRAUSS.





The first production of Strauss' Elektra took place in Dresden January

25th, 1909. It met with immense applause from one part, with trenchant

criticism from the Philistines.



Certainly Strauss is neither Wagnerian nor academical, and certain it

is, that his new work is interesting enough, to necessitate its

admission in the Standard Operaglass.



The instrumentation is marvellous; orchestral impossibilities are

unknown to Strauss. Although he depicts with predilection the weird

and ghastly, following closely the libretto, often sacrificing beauty

of expression to realistic truth, yet he also finds motives of deep

feeling. These are for instance the melodious songs of Chrysothemis,

the sisters' first duet and the recognition of Orestes by Elektra.



The legend of Orestes has occupied the poets of all times. Its

greatest interpreter was Sophokles, who first chose Elektra for the

heroine of his drama. But while classic grandeur prevails in the

old poet's drama, while he makes Elektra the tool of destiny decreed by

the gods, the Viennese poet goes back to the original myth, depriving

his heroine of every human feeling. She lets herself be guided only by

her thirst for vengeance, and by her own savage and unprincipled

instincts, and appears in striking contrast to her sister Chrisothemis,

whose gentle nature is the one redeeming feature in the drama.



The scene is laid in Mykene.



In the opening scene five maids are talking about Elektra, who enters

haggard and in rags, shunning them and disappearing again like a hunted

animal. Day by day she mourns for her father Agamemnon, who has been

murdered by her mother's lover Aegisthos.



The maids find fault with Elektra's strange behaviour and haughtiness.

They believe her to be dangerous and suggest, that her mother should

lock her up safely. One maid reproves them however. She respects in

Elektra the dead King's cherished daughter, who, though in rags and

brought so low by her unnatural mother, that she is compelled to eat

with the servants, yet bears herself more queenly than Clytemnestra

herself. The others beat their companion for her allegiance to

Elektra, who appears again, moaning for Agamemnon. His poor murdered

body seems to arise fresh before her every day. Her one aim in life is

vengeance on his murderers, and her only hope is her brother Orestes,

who has disappeared.







She is joined by her sister Chrysothemis, who implores her to abandon

her vindictive thoughts, the cause of their common captivity. She

further reveals to her, that their mother means to imprison her, but

Elektra laughs at her terror.--Chrysothemis longs for freedom, the love

of a husband and children, and is utterly alien to her sister's dark

thoughts. Hearing her mother's step she entreats Elektra to go away,

Clytemnestra having had evil dreams about her son's coming home and

killing her. Elektra, regardless of her prayers meets her mother with

a cruel stare. The latter is in her darkest mood, which grows worse at

her hated daughter's appearance. But Elektra, accosting her as a

goddess for once quiets her suspicions. Clytemnestra dismisses her

servants, who tries to warn her against her daughter. When they are

alone, the Queen complains bitterly of the frightful dreams that haunt

her, and wants to know, what she can do to banish them.



Elektra answers enigmatically, that a woman must be sacrificed, and

that a man, but not Aegisthos the coward, must do it.



Clytemnestra, vainly guessing at his name, is reminded of her son

Orestes, whom the mother has made to disappear, while he was a child.

Her troubled looks convince Elektra that Orestes is living, and casting

off her disguised mood, she sternly tells her mother, that she herself

is to be the sacrifice.--In a long wild monologue she reproaches her

for all her treachery, ending by depicting the awful fate that

awaits her, and rejoicing over it.



Clytemnestra's terror is appeased by the appearance of her attendants,

one of whom whispers to her the welcome news of Orestes' death.



Wildly triumphant she leaves her daughter, who hears the bad news from

Chrysothemis. Elektra will not believe it until she hears it from

another servant, who is sent into the fields, to inform Aegisthos about

it. Then she implores her sister's help in killing her mother and her

lover, while they are asleep.--She has hidden the axe, with which her

father was slain, yet being physically weaker than her younger sister

she requires assistance. But although she promises her all the good

things on earth and is ready to serve her like a slave, Chrysothemis

turns from her shuddering and finally escapes. Elektra wildly curses

her and resolves to carry out her design alone.



For this purpose she unearths the axe, but is disturbed by the arrival

of a stranger, who takes her for one of the maids. He replies to her

angry questions, that he has come to announce Orestes' death, which he

has witnessed. Flashing with anger Elektra reproaches him for not

having died in his stead. Her bearing convinces him, that she is

superior to what she seems. Then she tells him, that she is Elektra,

to which he replies in a whisper: "Orestes lives."--At this moment an

old family servants enters, bringing three others, who, falling at the

stranger's feet, hail him as their master. Then Elektra

recognizes her brother and greets him with passionate joy, though she

is ashamed of her own miserable appearance. Orestes at once agrees to

help her in her vengeance and enters the house with his old servant,

locking the door behind him. Elektra, standing erect on the threshold,

hears Clytemnestra's scream and exclaims: "Hit her once more!" Those

screams bring on Clytemnestra's servants together with Chrysothemis,

all trying to open the closed door. But when they see Aegisthos

returning they vanish.



The king calls for lights. Elektra taking up a torch, bows low to him,

and motions him to go on. When he recognizes her, he asks where the

men are, who brought the news of Orestes' death.--Elektra, silently

advancing with the torch, opens the door and lets him pass into the

house. Then she stands like one transfixed, listening to the frightful

cries inside the house.--Chrysothemis appearing in a transport of joy

shouts to her, that Orestes has come, and has avenged them by slaying

the guilty pair.--All his enemies are dead thanks to those servants,

who had remained faithful to him. Orestes is brought out on their

shoulders, and while Chrysothemis joins her brother, Elektra sings a

weird hymn of exultation. Slowly descending from the steps of the

threshold she begins to dance triumphantly. The crowd looks on

spellbound; her dance grows wilder and more triumphant until she sinks

to the ground lifeless.





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