Elektra, Opera by R. Strauss
Premiered in Dresden in 1909, Elektra is a breathtaking collaboration between the German composer, Richard Strauss, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who wrote the libretto based on his own 1903 drama adapted from Sophocles’ Greek tragedy.
In Elektra, the eponymous heroine seeks vengeance for her father, Agamemnon, murdered by her own mother, Klytämnestra, and her lover, Ägisth. She attempts to entice her younger sister, Chrysothemis, into helping her to kill Klytämnestra and Ägisth, but Chrysothemis refuses to play any part in her sibling's plans. Only when she is reconciled with their brother Orest, whom she had given up for dead, is the deed done when Orest slays them both, Klytämnestra and Ägisth. The course of events however has been too much for Elektra who is overcome by her emotions and dies while in the throes of ecstasy.
The works of Richard Strauss are some of the most compelling in the classical repertoire. Possibly because of his long life and a career that spanned the late romantic and early modern periods, he was as comfortable with writing diatonic harmony as he was in exploring the possibilities offered by the use of dissonance and chromaticism that was to revolutionise 20th century music.
In his previous opera, Salome, Strauss combined the familiar melodic lines of the western tradition with the unsettling effects of the increasingly atonal approach to composition, to great dramatic effect. Following his success with Salome, Strauss doubtless felt that he could push the boundaries further still. In Elektra, the composer exploits very different musical styles to set up a series of unforeseen jolts and clashes that perfectly contrast the characters' emotional states while underpinning the violence of the story.