• Re: Elektra: Recordings Introduction and Survey

    From gggg gggg@21:1/5 to Hugh Canning on Sun Oct 23 10:35:43 2022
    On Sunday, January 23, 2005 at 9:37:07 AM UTC-8, Hugh Canning wrote:
    Richard STRAUSS: Elektra: Recordings Introduction and Survey
    Opera in 1 Act, 1909
    [After the band of the Grenadier Guards had played an Elektra
    potpourri] His Majesty does not know what the Band has just played, but
    it is never to be played again.
    - King George V, quoted in Reid, Thomas Beecham, 1961.
    If Richard Strauss' third opera, Salome, established his international reputation the completion of Elektra suggested a composer who was on
    the brink of breaking the mould of opera (although this was not to be,
    as his next opera Der Rosenkavalier demonstrated). Elektra comprises an immense, dissonant score and one of the most demanding parts ever
    written for the female voice, with Elektra never off stage after her
    first appearance. It shocks as few operas do, and weaves orchestration
    of great complexity with vocal writing of thrilling power. Elektra has
    not often been recorded in the studio, undoubted masterpiece that it
    is, but we are fortunate to have a number of great recordings taken
    from 'live' broadcasts. The aim of this survey is to guide the listener through the recordings that are currently on the market and offer a
    final recommendation, or two.
    Synopsis. Using a libretto by the Austrian poet, Hugo von Hofmannsthal,
    the story of Elektra is based on the play Electra by the Greek
    tragedian Sophocles. The opera starts with Klytemnestra's maids washing
    away the blood of her murdered husband, Agamemnon, from the palace
    walls. Elektra appears and is derided by the maids.
    In her first monologue, "Allein! Weh ganz allein", Elektra invokes the
    spirit of her father and celebrates the day when his murder will be
    avenged. Her sister, Chrysothemis, still living within the palace
    walls, informs Elektra that Klytemnestra and her lover, Aegisth, are
    planning to immure her in the tower where they hope she will die.
    Elektra rejects these words, when noises are heard from within the
    palace proclaiming a sacrificial procession. Chrysothemis explains that
    their mother has suffered terrible nightmares, and in a move to
    exorcise them she plans a bloody sacrifice. At this stage Elektra
    determines to confront her mother and lures her out of the palace
    In "Was willst du? Seht doch dort", Klytemnestra pleads with Elektra to
    help rid her of the nightmares that are now ravaging her body and mind. Elektra replies enigmatically that the sacrifice must be Klytemnestra
    herself if she is to be freed from the nightmares.
    Elektra then asks her mother about her brother, Orest. Klytemnestra
    lies and tells Elektra that his years in the wilderness have made him
    mad, a lie which leads the smoldering bitterness between the two women
    to erupt into hatred. Elektra tells her mother that she will be hounded
    to death and Klytemnestra retorts that Elektra herself will receive the severest of punishments.
    Klytemnestra returns to the palace walls, when Chrysothemis arrives
    with news of two strangers who have testified to Orest's death.
    Elektra, crushed by this news, decides she will avenge her father's
    death herself. Chrysothemis, dismayed by this, flees in terror. Elektra
    looks for the axe with which her father was killed and comes upon a
    stranger she soon recognises as her brother, Orest! Orest!.
    Angered at his duplicity, Elektra refuses his embraces. Orest leaves
    her and enters the palace, whereupon she hears the screams of her
    mother and later those of Aegisth. Orest is proclaimed by the people as
    their savior as the palace walls drip with blood. Chrysothemis invites
    her sister to join in the celebrations but Elektra, now scarcely aware
    of what is happening, escapes into her own closed world and at the
    climax of a joyous dance collapses lifeless to the ground. Chrysothemis appears and calls to Orest but the palace doors remain shut.
    The Music. The harmonic structure of Elektra owes a great deal to the
    tonal disintegration that started with Wagner (another composer for
    whom the leitmotif was an important functioning part of the
    infrastructure of an opera). But it is also an opera of contrasts: both theatrical and psychological, dissonant climaxes set against intense
    lyricism (Elektra's dance of death played out against the lyricism of
    the Recognition Scene between Elektra and Orest). All of this is
    achieved by building up huge blocks of sound and establishing tension
    between contrasting chords. The chords of B minor and F minor establish
    the Elektra theme and the D minor chord that comes to symbolise
    Agamemnon is set symmetrically against this. Later, when Orest returns,
    set against the chord of A-flat major, the symmetry becomes complete
    with the pattern of B-D-F-A-flat now established.
    From the opening, brutal triad of Elektra it is clear that Strauss
    intended to explore his musical possibilities to their limit. The
    score, compact yet monumental, is one of the most violent in all opera
    and is composed of a series of multiple themes, all somehow
    interrelated to each other. Its complexity comes down to Strauss'
    ability to establish musical connections, at times hundreds of bars
    apart, of simple and repeating chord progressions. Such complexity
    underlines the drama of the opera and establishes Strauss as the
    natural successor to Wagner. It is probably a mistake to view Elektra
    as a radical work that might have allowed Strauss to write a truly
    atonal masterpiece - as Schoenberg did progressing from Gurrelieder to
    Moses and Aaron. Strauss' next work, Der Rosenkavalier, shuffled off
    many of the coils of atonal development he might have pursued, and
    allowed him to produce probably the most Romantic work of the century.
    In a transparent performance of Elektra this development can clearly be
    A Survey of Recordings

    Like Verdi's La Traviata, Elektra is an opera that depends, entirely or otherwise, on the merits of the protagonist. Just as Violetta dominates Verdi's great opera, so Elektra carries that of Strauss: she must
    encompass a vast range of emotion with a voice that requires her to
    reach the depths of despair as well as the heights of ecstasy and histrionicism. For this reason, the best Elektras have often been great Wagnerians (although not exclusively).

    The earliest recording of the opera derives from a 1937 concert
    performance with Rose Pauly in the role of Elektra. Pauly was the most celebrated Elektra of the 1930s and all subsequent performances rest
    somewhat in the shadows of this titanic and electrifying
    The voice is pure in the upper staves (important in this opera), and
    has marvellous power in reserve for her confrontation with Klytemnestra
    (a noble interpretation from Enid Szánthó). Pauly's singing at the
    climax of Klytemnestra's murder is unsurpassed on record - it truly
    terrifies as no other interpretation has since, and her ecstatic waltz
    has real power (as a performance it is unmatched). None of this would
    be possible without the other great protagonist in this opera - the conductor. Artur Rodzinsky was a superb Strauss conductor and he leads
    the New York Philharmonic through Strauss' complex score with
    magnificent aplomb.
    There are draw backs to this recording. Firstly, it is incomplete and
    heavily cut to allow for a concert performance. Secondly, the sound is
    at times very distorted, and at times very crackly, although the voices
    sound real and focused. It remains, however, an indispensable recording
    and is on Eklipse EKRCD17 at full-price...

    (2022 Y. upload):

    "FIRST recording of Richard Strauss' Elektra (1937 live; Rose Pauly, Huehn, Jagel, cond. Rodzinski)"

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