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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Strauss: Elektra

02/03/2013 1:00 pm
02/03/2013 4:30 pm


Host Keith Brown writes:

This will be the fourth time over a span of more than two decades when I will be presenting Richard Strauss' Elektra (1909), his operatic take on the ancient Greek tragedy, derived ultimately from Sophocles' drama, reworked by Hugo von Hofmannsthal into a German language play in 1903.

Hofmannsthal added his own modern perspective to the old story about the cursed House of Atreus. This modernist approach appealed to Germany's preeminent opera composer of the era. Elektra was the first fruit of the collaboration between Hofmannsthal and Strauss. With Elektra Strauss reached his outermost limit as a composer in the avant-garde modernist mode.

The title role requires a soprano who possesses real vocal power and stamina. (This is not easy music to sing.) When I first presented the opera on Sunday, October 15, 1989 that soprano was the legendary Birgit Nilsson. You heard her in a vintage London LP recording made in Vienna. Then on May 2, 1993 it was the turn for the German soprano Hildegard Behrens. She was recorded for Philips live in semi-staged performance at Boston's Symphony Hall in 1988. Astrid Varnay essayed the demanding role in monaural sound in 1953. The archival recording from West German Radio Cologne was aired on September 13, 2009.

This fourth time the American Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet is heard in an unstaged performance at the Barbican in London, recorded live in January 2010. The English mezzo Dame Felicity Palmer is Electra's mother Klytemnestra. The German bass Matthias Goerne is her brother Orestes. Valery Gergiev conducts the London Symphony Orchestra. The Barbican is the LSO's home venue. The recordings made there are issued on CD under the orchestra's own LSO Live label.