Elektra is a one-act opera by Richard Strauss, to a German-language libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal adapted from his drama of 1903—the first of many such collaborations between composer and librettist. It was first performed at the Dresden Hofoper on January 25, 1909, and remains a part of the standard operatic repertoire.
The plot of Elektra is based upon the great Greek tragedy of the same name by the dramatist Sophocles. The unrelenting gloom and horror that permeate the original play produce, in the hands of Hofmannsthal and Strauss, a drama whose sole theme is revenge. Clytemnestra, helped by her paramour Aegistheus, has secured the murder of her husband, Agamemnon, and now is afraid that her guilt will be discovered by her children, Elektra, Chrysothemis, and their banished brother Orestes. Elektra, who is the personification of the passionate lust for vengeance, tries to persuade her timid sister to kill Clytemnestra and Aegistheus. Before the plan is carried out, Orestes, who had been reported as dead, arrives and, upon being told the truth by Elektra, determines upon revenge for his father's death. He kills Clytemnestra and Aegistheus; Elektra, in an ecstatic dance of triumph, falls dead in front of her horror-stricken attendants.
Style and Instrumentation
Musically, Elektra deploys dissonance, chromaticism and extremely fluid tonality in a way which recalls but moves beyond the same composer's Salome of 1905, and which represents Strauss's furthest advances in modernism, from which he later retreated. To support the overwhelming emotional content of the opera, Strauss uses a very large and in some ways unusual orchestra, including a heckelphone, two basset-horns, bass trumpet, contrabass trombone and a quartet of Wagner tubas, together with a highly unconventional division of the string section requiring, among other things, a fourfold division of the violins with the entire fourth section also doubling as violas.