2
From Play to Libretto

Hofmannsthal Elektra premiéred on 4 October 1903 in Berlin, approximately five years before Strauss finished composing the operatic version. Although the opera marks the beginning of Strauss's and Hofmannsthal's long-standing artistic relationship, the libretto, for the most part, represents little or no collaboration at all. Letters between poet and composer, as well as Strauss's own copy of Hofmannsthal's play, show Strauss to be the major figure behind Elektra's transformation from play to libretto, and that transformation essentially entailed cutting Hofmannsthal's text down to what Strauss considered a more manageable size as an opera libretto. Hofmannsthal's only significant contribution to the libretto was the additional text for Elektra's aria in the Recognition Scene and the text for the duet between Elektra and Chrysothemis in the final scene.

Strauss already had had the experience of transforming a play into a libretto with the composition of Salome. As early as spring 1902 Strauss planned to base an opera on Oscar Wilde's play, but he was not satisfied with Anton Lindner's translation and versifications of the opening portions. Soon enough Strauss decided to set the play itself (translated by Hedwig Lachmann) to music, although he made some significant cuts and alterations in the text. In 1903 the composer, who had been in Berlin since 1898, saw a performance of Wilde's stage play, Salome, at Max Reinhardt's Kleines Theater with Gertrude Eysoldt in the title role. Strauss, who was already in the midst of early sketching, was no doubt affected by her stunning performance and Reinhardt's imaginative direction, and the opera was completed by summer 1905. That autumn Strauss once again saw Eysoldt on the Berlin stage, but this time in the title role of

-18-

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Richard Strauss's Elektra
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editor's Preface vii
  • Author's Preface ix
  • Contents xv
  • List of Illustrations xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • 1 - Context and Critical Reception 1
  • 2 - From Play to LIbretto 18
  • 3 - Elektra Chronology 49
  • 4 - Elektra: Summary of Tonal Structure 67
  • 5 - The Annotated Elektra LIbretto: Strauss's Preliminary Musical Thought 107
  • 6 - The Elektra Sketches 164
  • 7 - The Final Scene: Genesis and Structure 206
  • Appendix I: Elektra Chronicle 236
  • Appendix II: Sketchbook Inventories 242
  • Works Cited 257
  • Index 263
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