Elektra, Richard Strauss’s blazing tragedy about an ancient Greek princess hell-bent on revenge, comes to THIRTEEN’S Great Performances at the Met. The opera, the final opera production by the legendary directorPatrice Chéreau who died in 2013, airs Sunday, September 18 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). (In New York, THIRTEEN will air the opera at 12:30 p.m.)
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts an extraordinary cast headed by Nina Stemme as the obsessed and bloodthirsty title character. Waltraud Meier sings her first Met performances of Klytämnestra, Elektra’s mother and the object of her fury, with Adrianne Pieczonka as Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis; Eric Owens as her exiled brother, Orest; and German tenor Burkhard Ulrich, in his Met debut, as the corrupt monarch Aegisth.
Elektra premiered in Dresden in 1909. Shortly after conquering the opera world with his scandalous masterpiece Salome, Richard Strauss turned to a recent adaptation of Sophocles’s “Electra” by Austrian author Hugo von Hofmannsthal for his next project. The drama unfolds in a single act of rare vocal and orchestral power.
The title role is demanding even by the composer’s daunting standards: Once Elektra takes the stage near the beginning of the opera, she does not leave, portraying a wide spectrum of emotions and singing over an enormous orchestra throughout the course of the work.
Munich-born Richard Strauss (1864–1949) composed an impressive body of orchestral works and songs before turning to opera. After two early failures, the 1905 premiere of Salome caused a theatrical sensation, and the balance of his long career was largely dedicated to music for the stage.
Elektra marks his first collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929), with whom he developed a partnership that became one of the most remarkable in operatic history. Hofmannsthal emerged as an author and poet within the fervent intellectual atmosphere of Vienna at the turn of the last century.
The orchestra for Elektra is often cited as the largest for any repertory opera. It includes eight clarinets, four French horns, four Wagner tubas, seven trumpets, two harps, a huge body of strings, and a substantial percussion section. 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.
Elektra premiered at the Met in 1932, with Artur Bodanzky conducting and Gertrude Kappel in the title role.
Of the current production, The Financial Times raved “… the great Nina Stemme … sang with unflagging power, with volcanic compulsion in passages of desperation, with shimmering gentility in passages of reflection. She paced, pranced and stumbled with fierce freedom, exuding passion even in repose. She also summoned compelling fervour that engaged everyone around her….”
The New York Times observed, “The director Patrice Chéreau’s production of Strauss’s Elektra … has already been deemed a landmark of contemporary opera staging… Nothing prepared me for the seething intensity, psychological insight and sheer theatrical inventiveness of this production… Ms. Pieczonka’s rich, clear voice conveys Chrysothemis’s affecting vulnerability. Yet in moments of frustration and despair, her singing has bright, piercing power… The bass-baritone Eric Owens is a deeply sympathetic Orest… his rich, muscular voice is suffused with suffering…”
Soprano Renée Fleming hosts the broadcast.
Elektra was originally seen live in movie theaters on April 30 as part of the groundbreaking The Met: Live in HD series, which transmits live performances to more than 2,000 movie theaters and performing arts centers in over 70 countries around the world. The Live in HD series has reached a record-breaking 20 million viewers since its inception in 2006.
Great Performances at the Met is a presentation of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.
Corporate support for Great Performances at the Met is provided by Toll Brothers, America’s luxury home builder®. Major funding for the Met Opera presentation is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. This Great Performances presentation is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Agnes Varis Trust, and public television viewers.
For the Met, Gary Halvorson directs the telecast. Jay David Saks is Music Producer. Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park are Supervising Producers, and Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik are Producers. Peter Gelb is Executive Producer. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is Series Producer; David Horn is Executive Producer.