Sunday, September 18 at 12 p.m. on PBS
(Check your local listings)
“Elektra,” Richard Strauss's blazing tragedy about an ancient Greek princess hell-bent on revenge, comes to Great Performances at the Met. The opera is the final opera production by the legendary director Patrice Chéreau who died in 2013.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts an extraordinary cast headed by Nina Stemme as the obsessed and bloodthirsty title character. Waltraud Meier sings her in 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.
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.
Soprano Renée Fleming hosts the broadcast.