Listen to Elektra

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There’s no operatic tour de force to surpass Elektra, with a title role that demands a truly great singing actress. It’s a stunning vocal marathon, with riveting intensity. This passionate heroine is the Mycenaean princess whose father, Agamemnon, was murdered by her mother, Klytemnestra, leaving Elektra hell-bent on revenge. As Richard Strauss’s staggeringly powerful orchestra moves inexorably toward the opera’s hair-raising finale, the music gives you a composer at his zenith — magnificently theatrical and devastatingly moving.

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Act One

In the courtyard of Agamemnon’s palace, five maids discuss the erratic behavior of Elektra, who has lost her rightful place in the royal household and been condemned to a menial existence. One of the maids unleashes the hostility of her companions by declaring her loyalty to Elektra who, despite her strange ways, is still a royal princess and daughter of the late king. The overseer, who shares in the censure of Elektra, sends the maids inside, where they continue to abuse their companion.

Elektra enters the courtyard, brooding on the murder of her father and upon his unpunished assassins. She swears that she and her siblings, Orest and Chrysothemis, will dance at Agamemnon’s tomb when their vengeance will have set his soul at peace. Chrysothemis comes to warn Elektra that Klytämnestra and Aegisth are plotting to imprison her. She begs Elektra to flee with her from the tortured existence they must endure in the palace. Chrysothemis longs for a happier life – above all, to bear children. She advises her sister to avoid Klytämnestra, who the night before had been plagued by terrifying dreams. Elektra replies that she must speak to Klytämnestra, and Chrysothemis leaves as their mother approaches.

The sight of Elektra inspires fear in Klytämnestra and elicits hostile remarks from the queen’s confidante and trainbearer, who are sent away. Klytämnestra asks her daughter if she knows a remedy for the nightmares and the suffering they provoke. Elektra suggests that the sacrifice of an appropriate victim would end her mother’s torment. When Klytämnestra presses her for details, Elektra exultantly reveals that the queen herself must be the victim whose blood is to be offered by the exiled Orest. Servants rush in to whisper news to Klytämnestra, who begins to laugh as if in triumph.

After the queen has left the courtyard, Elektra learns from Chrysothemis that the news inspiring such joy in Klytämnestra was the death of Orest. His legitimate claim to his father’s throne had threatened the power and lives of his mother and her paramour. Elektra refuses to believe her brother is dead, yet a young servant seems to confirm the news when he asks an older colleague for a horse to rush the tidings to Aegisth.

Elektra reveals to Chrysothemis that she has kept the axe that was used to murder their father. She had intended to give it to Orest so he could seek vengeance on Klytämnestra and Aegisth. Now there is no alternative but immediate action. Elektra’s request for help in the double murder horrifies Chrysothemis, who rushes away, leaving Elektra resolved to exact her revenge unaided.

A stranger enters, explaining that he is waiting to give Klytämnestra an eyewitness account of Orest’s death. This new confirmation of the awful news releases a torrent of grief in Elektra, who discloses her identity. The stranger – Orest himself, who had not previously recognized her – wonders that the dogs at the gate knew him, but his sister does not. Now aware that the man before her is her own brother, she is ecstatic.

Orest informs Elektra that he is on a mission of vengeance. His tutor appears, chiding the siblings for recklessly discussing their plans where they can be overheard. He tells Orest that Klytämnestra awaits, and the two men enter the palace. Almost immediately Klytämnestra’s shrieks ring out. The courtyard quickly fills with terrified servants, who flee to avoid fatal reprisals from Aegisth when he hears that Klytämnestra has been murdered.

When Aegisth reaches the courtyard, he finds no one there but Elektra. Although disturbed by her suddenly gentler and sweeter demeanor, he allows her to light his way across the threshold. Once inside, he is heard desperately calling for help. To his shouts of “Can no one hear me?” Elektra cries, “Agamemnon hears you!” Only a moment after Aegisth is killed, Chrysothemis and the maids run out to tell Elektra that Orest has avenged the murder of Agamemnon. Elektra performs a triumphal dance and then falls senseless to the ground. Chrysothemis rushes to the palace door, frantically calling for Orest.

Meet the artists

* Lyric Opera debut
** Ryan Opera Center alumni
*** Current Member, Ryan Opera Center

Program book

Go inside this production of Elektra with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.

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Lyric production revival of Strauss’s Elektra generously made possible by

Julie and Roger Baskes

Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel

Mazza Foundation

Lyric Opera production.

Lyric Audio Streaming is made possible through a generous gift from

Robert F. Finke
in Memory of Carol Keenan

Photos: Cory Weaver, Lyric Opera of Chicago