ELEKTRA. By Richard Strauss. The stuff nightmares are made of. If you love horror movies, tragedies or sad endings — you might want to watch this movie. Richard Strauss premiered his opera ‘Elektra’ in 1909, but this is the first time that the opera was filmed for a movie. This is a big production with a star-studded cast featuring some of the opera superstars Leonie Rysanek and Astrid Varnay.
This is one of my favorite operas alongside ‘Salome’ and ‘The Woman Without A Shadow’, both of which were also composed by Richard Strauss. I have included in this post excerpts from the movie, including behind the scenes. Here is the cast of the movie:
by Richard Strauss
Leonie Rysanek, Elektra
Catarina Ligendza, Chrysothemis
Astrid Varnay, Klytemnestra
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Orest
Hans Beirer, Aegisth
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Karl Bohm
Synopsis of The Scenes
In the first half of this scene, Elektra narrates that her father was murdered by his wife and her other lover — the main cause of the conflict in this opera. Later, Elektra laments the loss of her father and resolves to make everything right. The monologue ends with some hysterical dance music.
Confrontation with Klytemnestra
Elektra’s mother, Klytemnestra, is plagued by nightmares which was brought about by her unconfessed guilt. She performs pagan rituals every night, sacrificing beasts and people as offering to the gods to rid her of her nightmares. Elektra tempts her mother and reveals that she knows who should be sacrificed to end all of her nightmares. She tells her mother in riddles, but later confronts her and tells that Klytemnestra herself is the sacrifice to end all of her nightmares: “What blood must flow? Blood from your own neck when the hunter has caught you… and I, who sent him to you, stand there and see you die at last!” Klytemnestra receives false news that Orest (her son) is dead, then she bursts into demonic laughter.
The Murder of Klytemnestra and Aegisth
Later, a stranger arrives to confirm the news that Orest is indeed, dead. He finds Elektra alone and lamenting in a dark corner. When she reveals who she was to him, he was appalled by her ghastly feature. In his anger, he volunteers to perform the deed of vengeance himself. He goes into the house, then screams are heard from within. Aegisth later arrives, not knowing what just happened. Aegisth is merrily escorted by Elektra into the house, little does he know that she is escorting him toward his death.
Elektra’s Death Dance
Finally, everyone is rejoicing in the arrival of Orest. Elektra throws herself into a mad hysterical dance. She falls dead and her sister calls their brother Orest for help… but in vain. Elektra’s hysterical dance music is one of the most beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard. You better not skip this scene!
Behind The Scenes
Karl Bohm’s last wish was to perform Elektra once more, and he finally convinced Leonie Rysanek to take the role after turning it down so many times. This is her one and only performance as Elektra. Karl Bohm died a few months after this recording, never seeing the film.
The Klytemnestra here, Astrid Varnay, was once a famous Elektra herself. She was known to be a good actress and changed the way opera used to be a ‘stand there and sing’. Her intelligence can also be seen in this document.
Leonie Rysanek is well known as Chrysothemis, Elektra’s sister. In her final years, she became mezzo soprano and took on the role of Klytemnestra. She, together with Gwyneth Jones, were the only ones who performed all leading ladies of the opera. All of them difficult in their own.
Lastly, here’s Leonie Rysanek this time as Klytemnestra