Elektra: 100 minutes of operatic genius

Edmonton Opera Blog

Elektra: 100 minutes of operatic genius

At its 1909 premiere in Dresden, Germany, Elektra left the audience shocked by its sheer brilliance. The New York Times review pictured here is one of many reactions that established this piece’s insane magnificence.

When you consider that “beads of actual perspiration stood out upon many a forehead” in Elektra’s opening night audience, and the reviewer declared “such demoniacal orchestral and vocal effects have never before been set to music”, then Strauss’s status as “a genius and a wizard” is gloriously justified.

The music of Elektra is also particularly inventive because it seeks to both mirror and fuel the protagonist’s emotional states. When the orchestra becomes dissonant, Elektra’s mind descends into chaos; when she runs around the stage frantically, the orchestra keeps up with tremendous pace.

Stylistically, Strauss almost belongs in his own category. Both Elektra and his previous opera Salome (1905) defied the musical conventions of the time, and embodied an expressionism that was not yet mainstream. The orchestra in Elektra is large and produces clashing sounds, which create a dissonant and chromatic landscape for the opera. The music is not always ‘pleasant’, rather it relies on some degree of sensory assault. On the other hand, there are also some moments of lush, lyrical romanticism that reflect Strauss's 19th century influences. 

Elektra runs at a solid 100 minutes with no intermission, taking you along for an intense roller coaster ride through its protagonist’s turbulent emotions. This is definitely not your typical opera, and pushes the boundaries of the art form itself. 

Violence that’s sung, not shown

Often referred to as ‘the bloodiest opera ever’, Elektra goes deeper into the troubled human psyche than any piece before it. In a time when graphic violence on shows like Game of Thrones dominates, Strauss’s opera still has the ability to create hair-raising moments with the sheer force of music.

The horror does not necessarily come from actual depictions of blood and gore, in fact, there is no on stage violence in this opera. Elektra’s words, however, are the true source of terror throughout. She gives the audience vivid descriptions of how her mother will be killed, the rivers of blood that will flow from their house, and how she will stand over her mother’s writhing body to declare her father’s victory. Elektra chillingly illustrates how her father was murdered and ferociously describes the ways Klytämnestra will be butchered by her own son Orest.


Experience Strauss's intense genius with Elektra March 11, 14 & 16 at the Jubilee. Tickets from $40!


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