Munich; “Elektra” at Bayerische Staatsoper; a tragedy in one act of violence and darkness

by Venetia Kapernekas

It was through ‘Elektra’ that Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal met in 1906. Already famous and mid-way through their careers, both were recognised as heirs of the great Germanic tradition. On April 22, 2016 I had the honour to watch a  fabulous performance “Electra “with the amazing soprano ladies, Gabrielle Schnaut and Evelyn Herlitzius conducted by the fantastic orchestra conductor, Ms Simone Young. 

Composer Richard Strauss , libretto Hugo von Hofmannsthal , stage design-costumes and lighting  by Herbert Wernicke 

Players: Gabriele Schnaut, Evelyn Herlitzius, Anne Schwanewilms, Ulrich Reß, René Pape, Christoph Stephinger ( In German without surtitles- Duration: 1 hours 50 minutes)

csm_04_beed1dd134Elektra: Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra), Gabriele Schnaut (Klytämnestra), photo@Wilfried Hösl


“Over the course of a slow twilight.” This is the scenic indication which Hofmannsthal gives for Elektra, a tragedy in one act of violence and darkness.

“Elektra” is a difficult, musically complex work which requires great stamina to perform. The role of Elektra, in particular, is one of the most demanding in the dramatic soprano repertoire.  The evening I attended the opera, April 22nd, Electra was Evelyn Herlitzius and Gabriella Schnaut as Klytaemnestra  who celebrated  her 40th anniversary on stage this year.

Despite being based on ancient Greek mythology, the opera is highly modernist and expressionist. Hofmannsthal and Strauss’s adaptation of the story focuses tightly on Elektra, thoroughly developing her character by single-mindedly expressing her emotions and psychology as she meets with other characters, mostly one at a time. The other characters are Klytaemnestra, her mother and one of the murderers of her father Agamemnon; her sister, Chrysothemis; her brother, Orestes; and Klytaemnestra’s lover, Aegisthus. These characters are secondary, and typically remain one-dimensional.

Elektra_Schnaut (c) Wilfried Hösl

Elektra: Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra), Gabriele Schnaut (Klytämnestra), photo@Wilfried Hösl


Synopsis: On his return from the Trojan War, King Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, wishes to avenge her murdered father. She is awaiting the return of her brother, Orestes, who was removed from the court as a child after the murder of his father…..

csm_07_cc9837c0c6Elektra: René Pape (Orest), Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra);photo@Wilfried Hösl

…….Her sister, Chrysothemis, warns Electra that their mother, Clytemnestra, is planning to have her locked up. Chrysothemis, who longs passionately for love and a life of fulfilment, is afraid that she might meet with a similar fate.

……..Electra is  determined to carry out her plan for revenge on Clytemnestra and Aegisthus with the sole help of Chrysothemis. But Chrysothemis refuses to become involved.

csm_10_7e6e1a83e7Elektra: Edith Haller (Chrysothemis), Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra); photo@Wilfried Hösl
csm_01__2__779f0fc4e6Elektra: Golda Schultz (Fünfte Magd), Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra);photo@Wilfried Hösl
csm_01_3_b4f7efa6eeElektra: Anna Rajah (Die Schleppträgerin), Gabriele Schnaut (Klytämnestra), Maria Marzo (Die Vertraute); photo@Wilfried Hösl


impressive stage design-costumes and lighting by Herbert Wernicke

………Aegisthus now returns. Electra greets him with feigned friendliness, confirms the news of Orestes’ death and accompanies Aegisthus into the palace, where Orestes awaits him.

………In her joy at the vengeance which has been wreaked, Electra is hardly aware of Chrysothemis when the latter comes to tell her that Orestes has arrived and has killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

(Bayerische Staatsoper/translation: Susan Bollinger)

“A gigantic orchestra, vocals pushed to their limits, post-Wagnerianism reaches its extreme limits and bursts into flames once and for all in this lyrical work.”

 Gabriele Schnaut celebrates her 40th anniversary on stage this year…. In the premiere of Herbert Wernicke’s iconic production by 1997 and in many subsequent performances, she sang the title role. …Gabrielle Schnaut states that “Electra is my role identification”  She was Electra on the original premiere recording on October 27,  1997 at the Nationaltheater in Munich.  here on the Bayerische Staatsoper Blog, you may listen the original recording from that time.   On this occasion of its fortieth stage anniversary leading  dramaturgist  Rainer Karlitschek held a small audience discussion by  the central box in Tier 1 and invited the audience  of the April 22 evening.

csm_SOP-DR24616041813040_eefdff9088Tochter und Mutter: Gabriele Schnaut als Elektra und Marjana Lipovsek als Klytämnestra ..
csm_9C2A1515_87b43d6203Elektra: Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra), Gabriele Schnaut (Klytämnestra);photo@Wilfried Hönl;  source:staatsoperblog

Elektra vs. Klytämnestra: Sie haben beide Rollen bereits verkörpert. Inwiefern können Sie sich mit beiden Charakteren identifizieren?
Gabrielle Schaut  Es ist meine Überzeugung, dass jede Sängerin und jeder Sänger eine “Identifikationsrolle” hat. Das war bei mir definitiv die “Elektra”. Der Schritt von der Tochter zur Mutter ist mit zunehmendem Alter und veränderter körperlicher Disposition folgerichtig.

Elektra vs. Clytemnestra: You have embodied both roles already. To what extent you can identify with both characters?
Gabrielle Schnaut :  It is my belief that every singer and every singer has a “role identification”. This was definitely with me the “Elektra”. The step from the daughter to the mother is consistent with age and altered physical disposition.


Elektra: René Pape (Orest), Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra);photo@Wilfried Hösl