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The craftsman
Vol. XVII, Number 3 (December 1909)

Roof, Katharine M.
Elektra in Dresden: Richard Strauss's latest opera,   pp. 281-295 PDF (5.0 MB)


Page 288


ELEKTRA IN DRESDEN
mother, in order to marry her lover Aegisthus, has murdered her
husband, Agamemnon, before the girl's eyes. The son, Orestes,
Elektra's beloved young brother, Clytemnestra has sent away to be
starved, ill-treated and eventually made away with. Under the in-
fluence of this horrible violation of all that makes the natural relation
between mother and daughter, the loss of her father and brother, and
the sense of the obligation to avenge, Elektra has become something
scarcely human, and waits only for Orestes's return or the certainty
of his death for the accomplishment of her vengeance. She says to
Orestes,-
    "Do you understand, my brother . . .
    All that is sweetest to woman I have sacrificed
    Jealous are the dead        and he sent me hollow-eyed hate
for a bridegroom
   So I became a prophetess, and have brought forth naught but
curses and despair."
   Hugo von Hofmansthal's play, which Strauss has used with only
a slight adaptation, differs from the classic Greek tragedies in several
details, but most of all in its direct modern intensity. In comparison
with the old dramas-robbed of the beauty of the original Greek
and read in tame translation-the modern German text is blood and
flame. Von Hofmansthal follows in the main the outline of Sopho-
cles, except that in the old play the murders are differently accom-
plished and Elektra survives in the end. The most important dif-
ference between the old Greek and the modern version lies in the
character of Clytemnestra. In the modern play she is an adulterous
criminal, haunted by her crimes. In the Greek plays her motive for
murdering Agamemnon was to avenge his sacrifice of her daughter
Iphigenia, which he did at the request of the gods in order to save
the Grecian fleet. The axe-made so much of in the modern work
-is mentioned only in Euripides.
HE opera begins with an outburst of barbaric savagery that is
      an epitome of the terrific passion at work in the drama, with
      the mournful Agamemnon motive rising above it. It passes
quickly into an episode of musical realism peculiarly Strauss-like,
the wrangle of the scandal-mongering maids in the castle court,
very much on the order of the discussion of the Jews in "Salome."
     That the queen should let such a demon free in house and
court," one exclaims. Only the young maid raises her voice on
Elelcra's behalf: "I will throw myself before her and kiss her feet.
Is she not a king's daughter and enduring such disgrace? I will
anoint her feet and dry them with my hair."   As the others-ser-
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