Christine Goerke sings her first Elektra at the Met in Patrice Chéreau’s landmark production, a sensation at its Met premiere last spring, which the Wall Street Journal called “revolutionary … a triumph on all fronts.” Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Strauss’s shattering score, a tour de force for the singers and the orchestra alike.
World premiere: Court Opera, Dresden, 1909. Met premiere: December 3, 1932. Shortly after conquering the opera world with his scandalous masterpiece Salome, Richard Strauss turned to Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s recent adaptation of Sophocles’s Electra for his next project. The resulting opera is an intense and still-startling work that unites the commanding impact of Greek tragedy with the unsettling insights of early-20th-century Freudian psychology. The drama unfolds in a single act of rare vocal and orchestral power.
Munich-born Richard Strauss (1864–1949) composed an impressive body of orchestral works and songs before devoting the second half of his long and productive career to the stage. Elektra marks his first collaboration with Viennese author and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929), who would go on to write five other librettos for Strauss over the following 20 years, in one of the most remarkable partnerships in theater history.
The story takes place in Mycenae, Greece, some years after the end of the Trojan War. This mythically resonant era has inspired opera composers for centuries, including Monteverdi (Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, 1640), Gluck (Iphigénie en Tauride, 1779), Mozart (Idomeneo, 1781), Strauss himself (Die Ägyptische Helena, 1928), and, more recently, Marvin David Levy (Mourning Becomes Electra, 1967). The Met’s production is set in an unspecified contemporary space.
The orchestra for Elektra is often cited as the largest for any repertory opera. It opens and closes the drama with a crashing motive that represents Agamemnon, Elektra’s father, who even in death dominates the lives of his family. The score encompasses an astonishing range of musical color: there are moments of sublime lyricism when the characters express tenderness or love, and there is brutal, harsh dissonance when they are at (or beyond) the bounds of sanity.