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 necessitat
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.