Elektra (Electra)

  • Richard Strauss. Tragödie in one act. 1908.
  • Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, after the Electra of Sophocles.
  • First performance at the Hofoper, Dresden, on 25th January 1909.
Elektra, daughter of Agamemnon soprano
Chrysothemis, her sister soprano
Klytemnästra (Clytemnestra), their mother mezzo-soprano
Her Confidante & Her Trainbearer sopranos
Young & Old Servant tenor & bass
Orest (Orestes), son of Agamemnon baritone
His Tutor bass
Aegisth (Aegisthus), Klytemnästra’s lover tenor
Overseer soprano
Five Maidservants sopranos, mezzo-sopranos & contralto

The Greek general Agamemnon has returned from the capture of Troy to be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, who now reign in his stead. Electra, barely tolerated in the palace, mourns her dead father, dreaming of revenge. Her younger sister Chrysothemis warns her that Clytemnestra plans to have her imprisoned. Clytemnestra now seeks from Electra some release from her torments, suggesting sacrifice. Electra agrees, and outlines the pursuit of her father’s murderers by her brother Orestes. Clytemnestra is relieved when a messenger brings news of the death of Orestes. Electra now tries to persuade Chrysothemis to join her in vengeance, but with no success. She digs in the ground for the axe she needs, to be found by Orestes, returned. He seeks out Clytemnestra and kills her. Electra is left to welcome the returning Aegisthus, dancing round him. He goes into the palace and is struck down. Electra dances wildly in triumph, before falling down dead, leaving Chrysothemis beating at the palace doors and calling the name of her brother.

Strauss’s opera is an immensely powerful work. Various motifs reappear in the musical texture, which opens with the chanting of the name Agamemnon. Electra herself remains on stage throughout and the opera deals with a series of confrontations, with her sister, with Clytemnestra, with her brother, leading to the climax of the recognition scene, and finally with Aegisthus, before her wild dance and her death in triumph.