Richard Strauss, Elektra, 1909

Friday September 8th

The other Richard, the other Strauss (1864-


Uncomfortably modern, then and now, Strauss moved between fascination with Greek and biblical tragedy and the elegance of Vienna (Der Rosenkavalier), always with ‘relentless dramatic impetus and biting tonality’ (Minnesota Opera). Listen here to Deborah Voigt hosting discussion of Strauss and his strong women heroines.

Anti-Romantic Darkness - Elektra

There is no relief or final redemption in this black psychodrama of the fall of the House of Atreus. The story
of spiralling madness and self-destruction rather than evil, dwells in the minds of Clytaemnestra and principally Electra rather than the real world. Our production puts the palace and the world somewhere outside the padded-cell doors enclosing the stage of Electra’s tortured mind. The chorus exists to act out the demons and fantasies of the principals, while portraying the anti-moral degradation of a collapsed world. The deep irony of the conclusion is that only the simple uninvolved Chrysothemis survives - and somewhere a shadowy nothingness of Orestes the agent of termination, his life mission done. The rest are destroyed by their doomed attempts to grasp meaning and salvation from a world that can provide only despair.

From Greek Myths to Psychodrama

‘Much has been made of his ditching of many overt trappings of Greek drama, such as turning Sophocles' single-minded chorus into a gaggle of squabbling maids. Infinitely more important, however, was his decision to jettison the myth's metaphysics in their entirety. There is no divinely imposed pattern of retribution, no Furies to goad and torment his Orest, and the characters are consequently at the mercy of their own uncontrollable psyches and irrationalistic

Our Production

Elektra, Eva Johansson; Clytaemnestra, Marjana Lipovsek, Zurich Opera House, cond. Christoph von Dohnanyi, 2005.
obsessions. Myth becomes the embodiment of psychological extremism as Hofmannsthal collides with his contemporary Freud. Read more here.

The Music

So much in the music reminds of Wagner, not least the use of leitmotifs for the characters. The most striking and prevalent is the howling “Ag-a- MEMMMM…non” motif: It could have been enough that Strauss has the 'Agamemnon' motif open the opera, and in such an unequivocal statement. But that he also makes the motif so simple means Elektra can never escape the spectre of her father. It’s woven into everything, becoming her whole reality. (ROH) Musically, Elektra deploys dissonance, chromaticism and extremely fluid tonality … represents Strauss's furthest advances in modernism, from which he later retreated. Harmonic parallelism is also prominent modernist technique.” (More in Wikipedia)
Electra complex