STAVROS NIARCHOS FOUNDATION
364 Syggrou Avenue, Kallithea
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Sergio Metalli - Ideogamma SRL
Frank van Aken
A YOUNG SERVANT
AN OLD SERVANT
With the Greek National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
First time presented by the GNO
GNO's official opening at the SNFCC
15, 18, 22, 26, 31 October 2017
20th CENTURY CYCLE
Greek National Opera - Stavros Niarchos Hall
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Starts at: 20.00 |
Ticket prices: 15€, 30€, 40€, 60€, 65€, 100€
Students, reduced: 15€
Limited visibility seats: 10€
Exclusive sponsor of the production: MYTILINEOS
The Greek National Opera warmly thanks Mrs. Agnes Baltsa for her pro bono participation.
GNO Lead donor
The Greek National Opera inaugurates the new chapter in its history at its new premises at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center with an ambitious venture, having chosen an insuperable operatic masterpiece with a Greek storyline as its first work; none other than Richard Strauss’ Elektra based on the tragedy of that name by Sophocles. Elektra will be presented in a new ambitious production, conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos and directed by Yannis Kokkos, who also signs the sets, on October 15, 18, 22, 26, 31, 2017, at the Greek National Opera’s Stavros Niarchos Hall at the SNFCC.
Elektra has been dubbed one of the most important, yet also most demanding, 20th century operas. Staging the work is a major challenge for the Greek National Opera and its musical ensembles because the particularly complex score, in which Strauss pushes expressionistic delivery to the limits, almost touching upon tonality, requires around 110 musical instruments.
Strauss’ Elektra has never before been performed by the Greek National Opera. The symbolism operates on many levels, since a work with a Greek theme has been chosen, inspired by the myth of the house of Atreus, which will play a major role in the Greek National Opera’s overall program for the next 3 years, but is also a 20th century work since one of the Greek National Opera’s intentions is to demonstrate that opera, the lyric art, and musical theater did not come to an end in the 19th century.
Richard Strauss’ one-act opera Elektra is based on the libretto of the Austrian author and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is an adaptation of his play under the same name (1903). Although inspired from Sophocles’ tragedy, the text focuses mainly on Electra’s obsession for revenge for her father’s death, as well as on her feelings and mental state as she converses with the rest of the tragedy’s characters, her sister Chrysothemis, her brother Orestes and her mother Clytemnestra.
Elektra falls under what the Germans call Literaturoper – an opera based on a work of literature. Moreover, Hofmannsthal’s libretto possesses both a noteworthy literary merit and features that best serve the goal of opera, as anyone can follow Elektra without understanding a word.
Hofmannsthal’s Elektra has been a veritable trouvaille. As a libretto, it drove the Wagnerian confrontation between the archaic and the modern, between mythical detachment and a decadence rooted in psychoanalysis, to an extreme that enabled Strauss to take music drama one step beyond Wagner. Its prehistoric setting is the scene of a psychological drama expressed in a sophisticated orchestral counterpoint, with no noticeable break in continuity between interior and exterior, music and stage.
Stravinsky said in 1913: “What operas have been written since Parsifal? Only two that count - Elektra and Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande”.
Strauss met the challenges of Hofmannsthal’s libretto by producing a score that lasts for about 100 minutes and includes dozens of leitmotivs commenting on the action and the mental state of the lead characters. The structure of the orchestral accompaniment in Elektra also permits a mode of perception unconcerned with the exact meaning of musical and literary details. Namely, the listener can cling to the stage action and the same time submit to ‘the wizardry of relationships’ among the leitmotivs, not with an eye to their meaning, but in a vague sense that they cohere on some unutterably sophisticated level. This gives the music the function of a psychological or psychoanalytical commentary to the images on stage, a commentary as riveting as it is difficult to capture in words.
The opera is symmetrically structured and consists of eight consecutive images, among which four duets are included. In the first scene, the maidservants appear. Then, follow Electra’s monologue, Electra’s and Chrysothemis’ first duet, Electra’s and Clytemnestra’s duet, Electra’s and Chrysothemis’ second duet, Electra’s and Orestes’ duet, a short episode with Aegisthus, the murders and Electra’s final monologue.
To achieve this concept of “psychic polyphony” Strauss deploys greater orchestral forces than in any other opera of the repertoire: the orchestra numbers more than a hundred musicians and includes twenty brass instruments, twenty woodwinds, sixty-two strings, glockenspiel, celesta, two harps and percussion – forces exceeding altogether the ones in Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung [Der Ring des Nibelungen]. In a play full of blood, nightmares and extreme emotions, Strauss demands of this huge ensemble to perform the music “as if it were by Mendelssohn: fairy music”! The composer employs all these instruments to break the homogeneity of the sound, engage in an imaginative play with timbres and drive the brilliance of detail beyond the limits of mastery.
The renowned Greek director and set designer Yannis Kokkos, who signs the director and sets of the production, notes: “The stage becomes a place which speaks about confinement and madness, obsession and phantasy, mud and gold, and at the same time about the endurance of ancient stories that live to this day. There lies the reflection of Mycenae and Vienna, as well as fragments of recent historical memories. But most of all, there lies the intention to have light shed on this Greek matrix, that was so dear to Hofmannsthal. From there emerges the frightening abyss of the unconscious, the very concept investigated in early 20th century Vienna, where Elektra’s storm rages on”.
Yannis Kokkos, who lives and works in Paris, has presented works in the most important opera houses worldwide, among which La Scala, Covent Garden, the Wiener Staatsoper, Teatro Real and the Mariinsky Theatre. He has collaborated with leading conductors (Abbado, Muti, Gardiner, Mehta) and is the recipient of numerous awards for his work.
The production also marks the first collaboration between the Greek National Opera and world class Greek contralto Agnes Baltsa, who stars as Klytemnestra in all performances. Agnes Baltsa made her very successful debut in 1968, at the age of only 24, as Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro) at the Frankfurt Opera. Her next role was Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier) at the Vienna State Opera. Thus, began an exciting artistic career, which led her to the greatest opera houses worldwide: the Bavarian State Opera (Munich), the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden), the Opéra national de Paris, La Scala in Milan, the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Teatro Real in Madrid etc. She has repeatedly collaborated with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival, while her successful tours included even Latin America, Japan and Korea.
Her close fifteen-year long collaboration with the legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan was a catalyst for her career. He considered Baltsa as “the greatest dramatic mezzo-soprano of our time”.
Throughout her long-standing career, she cooperated with some of the most renowned directors and conductors such as Karl Böhm, Leonard Bernstein, Riccardo Muti, Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado, Colin Davis, Giuseppe Sinopoli and Antonello Allemandi. She also made many TV appearances and recordings for the greatest record companies (EMI, DG, BMG, Decca etc).
All these years Agnes Baltsa has been highly acclaimed, much-applauded by the audiences and glorified by the music critics. Her technically perfect voice, at once rich and flexible, her majestic presence on stage, her brilliant temperament, but also her right repertory choices at the right time, her talent to achieve everything she engages in, led to a great career, enviable collaborations and unique appearances on leading stages worldwide.
A rare case of an artist who combines musicality, theatricality and lyrical interpretation, she hasn’t expended herself in excess self-promotion – to this day she has given only a few interviews and has no personal website. Following her logic and her instinct she stayed focused on her goals.
The role of Electra will be performed by the acclaimed German soprano Sabine Hogrefe. Hogrefe has performed the role with great success at the Göteborg Opera, Teatro di San Carlo and the Detmold State Theater. She has appeared at the Bayreuth Festival, the opera houses of Frankfurt, Munich, Hannover, Hamburg, among others.
Dutch tenor Frank van Aken, who will perform the role of Aegisthus, is considered one of the most popular of his generation. He has sung in Bayreuth, Baden Baden, Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, Royal Opera House of London, Vienna State Opera and at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. He was applauded as Siegmund (Die Walküre, 2012) at the MET and in Barcelona. Recently he sang leading roles in the operas Tannhäuser (Budapest), Tristan and Isolde, Strauss’ Guntram, among others.
German soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin will perform the role of Chyrothemis. She has performed roles such as Salome, Chrysothemis (Elektra) and Ariadne (Ariadne auf Naxos) around the globe. Last season she performed with great success the role of Marie (Wozzeck) at the Paris Opera. Barkmin has appeared in operas such as Wiener Staatsoper, Carnegie Hall, Opernhaus Zürich, Komische Oper Berlin, to name a few, singing roles from a vast repertoire.
Greek baritone Dimitris Tiliakos will be debuting in the role of Orestis. Tiliakos has made a much awarded recording of Don Giovanni, along with Thodoros Kouretzis, and has appeared in Paris, Bolsoi, Barcelona, Brussels, Zurich, Perm, New York, etc.
Elektra will be conducted the by internationally acclaimed Greek conductor Vassilis Christopoulos. From 2011 to 2014 he was the Artistic Director of the Athens State Orchestra and from 2005 to 2015 Chief Conductor of the Southwest German Philharmonic Orchestra of Constance. He has conducted prestigious orchestras such as the Philharmonia Orchestra, the NDR Radiophilharmonie, the Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg, the New Japan Philharmonic, the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. His operatic repertoire extends from the baroque era to works of the 21st century. Recently he conducted with great success much acclaimed productions of Elektra and Die Frau ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss at the State Opera of Wiesbaden. In 2016 he was appointed Professor of Conducting at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt.
Director’s note by Yannis Kokkos: A dance of death
In Vienna, especially at the time when Strauss and Hofmannsthal created Elektra, ideas and new aesthetic forms were violently separating the 20th century from “yesterday’s world” and leading it towards an uncertain future, destined to reveal its true colours in the massacres of World War I.
That moment’s radicality was embodied in two works: Strauss’ Elektra and Schönberg’s Expectation [Erwartung]. The latter, which will be part of the “degenerate works of art” condemned by the Nazis, opened the way to contemporary music, through an absolute clash with the musical rules. Strauss’ opera on the other hand, following a different path, through a conflict with musical influences of the past, pushed voices to their limits and intensified timbres to the point of incandescence. It has thus regained an archaic barbarity and found a special way to reinvent “the birth of tragedy”.
Inspired by Sophocles, the opera revolves around the character of Electra who fully incarnates the obsession for revenge and the extreme limits of human nature. Setting aside the mechanism of murder and fate in a sequence of past crimes –those by Thyestes, father of Aegisthus, and the immoral sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father– Strauss’ opera focuses on the twofold image of Electra, as a creature turned wild by humiliation and injustice, and as an almost religious figure, characterized as sanctified by sorrow.
Electra embodies refusal. She refuses to forget. She refuses to pretend. She refuses to project herself in the future. For her, time stopped the night her father was murdered. Ever since, every evening at the same hour, she takes to invoking her father and performing a manic representation of the murder. These actions motivate her and keep her in a state of survival. The sole reason she exists for is to prepare the murderers’ murder, envisaged as a ritual sacrifice which must be performed by Orestes. When he appears in the night as a ghost and carries out the act, her only reason of existence ceases. Electra, annihilated, dies during a sublime though pitiful dance of atonement.
In this version of Elektra, one can find the painful shades of the prophecies and the despair of Kassandra, Agamemnon’s captive and concubine, a woman deprived of her own destiny. One can also find the more recent figure of Hamlet. Doing the will of his father’s ghost, wounded by his mother’s betrayal, Hamlet, deeply hurt and hesitant, an amalgam of Electra and Orestes, acts only at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy and even then, almost against his will.
As for Clytemnestra, loneliness, nightmares, and the fear of death all combined weaken her strength. A true sleepwalker with her terrified look veiled by eyelids heavy from insomnia, she faces nothingness.
Chrysothemis, the inverted aspect of Electra, a force of life yet slave to her history, the places and her own self, tries to imagine the future.
As if back to life from the world of the dead, Orestes, the long-awaited brother, comes to kill. Instrument of revenge, he ought to punish somebody else’s crime with a crime. This duty is imposed on him by the obsessive memory of his sister, Electra. Committing this crime, he, an enforcer of justice, becomes a matricide.
All the others, servants, confidents, guards, messengers, with Aegisthus, the lover-usurper, in charge, compose a dark court, at once terrifying and terrified. These figures, full of ancestral agonies and involved in the crime, relive in today’s bodies their insatiable depravity.
This is how we shall attempt to interpret Elektra. The stage becomes a place which speaks about confinement and madness, obsession and phantasy, mud and gold, and at the same time about the endurance of ancient stories that live to this day. There lies the reflection of Mycenae and Vienna, as well as fragments of recent historical memories. But most of all, there lies the intention to have light shed on this Greek matrix, that was so dear to Hofmannsthal. From there emerges the frightening abyss of the unconscious, the very concept investigated in early 20th century Vienna, where Elektra’s storm rages on.
"Elektra at a glance"
The composer / Richard Strauss was born on 11 June 1864 in Munich and died on 8 September 1949 in Garmisch, Bavaria. His father, Franz Strauss, was a horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. The composer started piano, violin and composition lessons at a very early age, and wrote his first pieces when he was only six years old. In the years 1882/83, he took courses at the University of Munich and in 1885 he was appointed assistant to the conductor Hans von Bülow, at the Opera of Meiningen. Later, he served as a conductor in Weimar, Munich, Berlin and Vienna. In 1894, he married the soprano Pauline de Ahna. His rich output of works includes, among others, tone poems, such as Macbeth (1890), Don Juan (1889), Death and Transfiguration [Tod und Verklärung, 1890], Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks [Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, 1895], Thus spoke Zarathustra [Also sprach Zarathustra, 1896], A Hero’s Life [Ein Heldenleben, 1899] etc and operas, such as Guntram (1894), Salome (1905), Elektra (1909), The Knight of the Rose [Der Rosenkavalier, 1911], Ariadne on Naxos [Ariadne auf Naxos, 1912/16], The Woman without a Shadow [Die Frau ohne Schatten, 1919], Arabella (1933), Daphne (1938) etc.
Premieres / The opera was presented for the first time at the Dresden Court Opera on 25 January 1909. The lead roles were performed by some of the most famous singers of the time: Annie Krull as Electra, Margarethe Siems as Chrysothemis, Ernestine Schumann-Heink as Clytemnestra and Carl Perron as Orestes. The opera was conducted by the Austrian conductor Ernest von Schuch, a steady work partner of Strauss who contributed significantly to turning the Dresden State Opera (Semperoper) into one of the most important opera houses in Europe. In Athens, Elektra was presented for the first time during the German occupation, on 24 June 1942 at the Herodes Atticus Odeon. Although it has been performed many times at various venues since then, it is the first time that it is going to be presented by the Greek National Opera, launching thus its first complete artistic season at its new home at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
"SYNOPSIS of the original"
Electra lives in Argos mourning for her father Agamemnon who was murdered by her mother Clytemnestra and his cousin Aegisthus, married now to Clytemnestra. She wishes for her brother’s return from Phocis, where he was raised by a pedagogue who kept him safe from his father’s murderers. Electra wants Orestes to take revenge for Agamemnon’s murder. Chrysothemis wishes the same as her sister. However, as long as she sees that her brother doesn’t return, Chrysothemis hopes to be able to leave the palace so as to have a better life as a wife and a mother. She warns Electra that their mother intends to lock her in a tower. Clytemnestra, whose nightmares keep her awake, comes to Electra for help. She is willing to make one more sacrifice to appease the gods. Electra tells her that she knows precisely who should be sacrificed to make the nightmares stop. She starts talking about her brother. She asks her mother why she doesn’t allow his return, and when Clytemnestra replies that Orestes has lost his mind, Electra accuses her that she paid to have him killed. It’s her blood the gods are asking for. Only if her blood is spilt will the dreams stop. Then, the maidservants whisper something in Clytemnestra’s ears and she bursts into a hysterical laughter. Chrysothemis announces that, according to two messengers, Orestes has been killed by his own horses. After that, Electra tries to convince Chrysothemis to help her take revenge. However, the younger sister wants to get away from the horror and lead the life of a tender wife and mother. Electra decides that she must avenge her father’s murder on her own. At the court, Electra meets one of the two messengers waiting to communicate the news to the queen in person. He claims to have been Orestes’ friend and that he was with him at the time of his death. The stranger recognizes Electra by her lament and reveals to her that he is Orestes. When he is called to the queen’s chambers, Electra forgets to give him the axe of revenge that she has been keeping for him. In comes Aegisthus, excited to hear the news about Orestes’ death. Electra leads Aegisthus to the palace, where Orestes is waiting with his followers. Sometime later, Chrysothemis comes running out, full of joy, to tell Electra that Orestes is back and has avenged their father’s murder. Electra breaks into an ecstatic dance until she falls dead on the ground.