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