[Met Performance] CID:112150
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Elektra {1} Matinee Broadcast ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 12/3/1932., Broadcast
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
December 3, 1932 Matinee Broadcast
Metropolitan Opera Premiere

R. Strauss-Hofmannsthal

Elektra.................Gertrude Kappel
Chrysothemis............Göta Ljungberg
Klytämnestra............Karin Branzell
Orest...................Friedrich Schorr
Aegisth.................Rudolf Laubenthal
Overseer................Dorothee Manski
Serving Woman...........Doris Doe
Serving Woman...........Ina Bourskaya
Serving Woman...........Philine Falco
Serving Woman...........Helen Gleason
Serving Woman...........Margaret Halstead
Confidant...............Grace Divine
Trainbearer.............Pearl Besuner
Young Servant...........Marek Windheim
Old Servant.............Arnold Gabor
Guardian................Siegfried Tappolet

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Director................Alexander Sanine
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Lillian Gärtner Palmedo

Elektra received six performances this season.

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


Vast Audience at Metropolitan Cheers for 15 Minutes at End of Powerful Drama.


Conductor Bodanzky and All the Artists Share in Honors of Intense Performance

Events which stirred an immense audience to its depths took place yesterday afternoon in the Metropolitan Opera House, when the Metropolitan Opera Company gave its first performance of Richard Strauss's "Elektra." The performance, as a whole, was the most eloquent interpretation that the writer remembers in eight years of listening to opera in this city. In the same period no such demonstration of enthusiasm has been seen after a Metropolitan performance, or perhaps any performance of a serious musical work given here. The moment that the last chord crashed from the orchestra was the moment for an outbreak of applause which had hardly less resonance. For precisely fifteen minutes by the watch the audience, in slowly diminishing numbers, cheered and called the principal artists back to the stage. The applause was particularly for Gertrude Kappel, the Elektra, also included emphatically her companion artists, and Artur Bodanzky, the conductor, on this occasion the greatest of all the interpreters.

It is probably accurate to say that, no one had dreamed of such reception of Strauss's formidable opera which is his most radical score for the opera house, one which is highly modern in its musical texture, to say nothing of a terrible theme and an uncompromisingly intense treatment of it. The applause was not for a leather-lunged tenor, or a coloratura soprano, or a favorite baritone with his romanza. It was not for a brilliant or a resounding operatic ensemble in the tried and true manner. It was for a stark and tremendous drama inspired from Greek sources, treated with modern emphasis by librettist and composer, and for an interpretation by leading artists which made not the slightest concession to conventionality, and mercilessly invoked guilt, terror, pity and triumph as its principal forces. In the light of this most eloquent and dramatic presentation it is clear that "Elektra" is Strauss's greatest work for the lyric stage, and furthermore, that the musical public of this day is ripe for it. If, indeed, it had not been so for some time prior to yesterday's presentation.

"Elektra" received its New York premiere by Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company in the Manhattan Opera House, Feb, 1, 1910. Since that season and until yesterday it had not been heard in our city. A fine performance of the work, Fritz Reiner conducting, was given by the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company in Philadelphia, Oct. 30, 1931. When "Elektra" was first heard here the alarm over "Salome" was still fresh in the public mind. But "Elektra" proved to be very different from the lyrical score of "Salome." "Elektra" is grim, frightful and exalted. Such passages of sensuousness as it affords are mainly for purposes of dramatic contrast. The highly dissonant character of the score, and its complexity, further dismayed listeners. Finally, there were the enormous technical difficulties of the work, and its demands for special orchestral forces. These were among the causes which kept "Elektra" so long from the local operatic stage.

Yesterday the music drama took hold of the audience from the first note and held it tense till the curtain fell. Some measure of this new comprehension was doubtless due to the harmonic water which has flown under the bridge since 1910, but, in larger measure the effect of the music was due to its interpretation. The burden of that interpretation rests on two principal supports-the Elektra, by whomever the rôle is taken, and the orchestra and whoever conducts it. Mr. Bodanzky's treatment of the orchestra and the orchestra's performance can hardly be over-praised. We have heard this work conducted by Hammerstein's conductor, the very able Jacques de la Fuente, by Strauss himself, by Fritz Reiner, and very admirably, in Philadelphia. Mr. Bodanzky's performance surpassed any we had heard for two principal reasons. One was its clarity, subtlety and cohesion; the other was its noble and classic proportion.

This was Mr. Bodanzky's greatest and profoundest contribution to the occasion, as it was Mme. Kappel's. And such exposition made clear the superiority of "Elektra" to "Salome," and the superior inspiration of the latter of these two works. At the bottom of Strauss's creative reactions, one feels, is an instinctive affinity to the stern stuff of transmuted Greek drama. It may seem strange, even paradoxical, to say this, especially in view of the outraged criticisms visited seasons ago upon Hoffmanthal's libretto. But the writer believes it to be utterly true, and it was the combination of intense drama, thought, technical mastery and noble line in Mr. Bodanzky's reading that brought the fact home to him.

Strauss uses his many instruments for purposes of color and imaginative suggestion far more than for purposes of sonority. In this latter consideration, despite the sweep and the frantic exultation of the finale, and earlier proclamations, majestic or frenetic as the case may be, the "Elektra" score is fine-woven and prevailingly of subtle texture. This was clear in the playing of the orchestra alone and also in fine balancing between instruments and voices. And let it be recorded that the Metropolitan orchestra played with a finish, an edge, with nuance and feeling and power of incisive commentary which placed before us not a better band, but a different band than we had known. It has been logical and unavoidable to treat first of Mr. Bodanzky's orchestra for in this opera the orchestra is the support, the explanation, the sublimation of the emotions of those in the stage.

Now comparisons, almost invariably, are odious. Yet they come irresistibly to mind in discussing the magnificent impersonation of Miss Kappel. We had deemed the Elektra of Hammerstein, which was the great Mariette Mazarin, the last word in the interpretation of this role. Miss Kappel, but recently recovered from a cold. so serious as to threaten her appearance yesterday, is her superior in interpretation. In the sense of an intensity that was terrible and neurasthenic. Mazarin had no superior. But in Mme. Kappel's impersonation there is a deeper and grander note. The same classic instinct, the same sure control of emotion by an incorruptible sense of form and proportion which Mr. Bodanzky displayed, was hers. And with this, a nobility that exalted the whole part and the entire music-drama.

Miss Kappel sang the music astonishingly well in consideration of all the circumstances, but her singing was necessarily and rightly at the disposition of dramatic interpretation. The madness, yet majesty and pathos, of the figure; the superb invocation-for once not pitched in too high and hysterical a key for the drama's beginning, but lofty in the extreme-of the ghost of Agamemnon; the obsession of the thought of the triumphal dance was conveyed by bodily plastic and by grand gestures as surely as by voice and the most significant diction. The scene with the guilty and quaking Klytemnestra-a scene in which Miss Branzell also rose to the full heights of the situation-was of a haunting and nightmarish power.

Then the futile appeal to Chrysothemis and the helplessness of the febrile and wasted Elektra to win her sister to her ways. Then the hunt in the earth, like that of an animal, for the weapon that the weak arm would wield for its own vengeance, and the appear- ance of Orestes. Perhaps the most moving, the most piteous moment of all was the recognition of the brother by the sister, the collapse, the frantic entreaties, the sudden revealing way in which Elektra, madwoman and goddess of vengeance, lost her terrible mien and the taut lines of the body became sinuous, and the voice sensuous and tender, in the duet which, Tristan-like or otherwise, remains one of the glorious passages of the score.

And, Elektra motionless in the shadows, listening, waiting for Orestes's deed. And Elektra, creeping to and fro, to and fro, to the soft and furious excitement of Strauss's orchestra, awaiting Aegisthus. And the false obsequiousness, the crafty dissimilation and ferocious joy with which she sends him to his death, And finally, the Elektra of the concluding scene, the maenadic dance, like the frenzy of a figure on a. Greek face, and the sudden and appointed doom. One must speak of all this in terms of interpretation rather than song, but the music of Strauss, allowing for its cruel demands upon the voice, was very finely and eloquently delivered, not only with searching emotion, but power of climax,

There was a third party to this admirable interpretation of Strauss. It was Miss Branzell's KIytemnestra, superstitious, corrupt, living but in decay. The tremors and dissolution of the waked Queen, her recital of her dreams, her eager questioning of Elektra to name the propitiatory sacrifice. And, by all that is macabre and hallucinating, the phantasmagoria of the orchestra! Miss Branzell sang her music with unlimited opulence of tone and she took her part as authoritatively as if she was doing it for the fiftieth time in the Metropolitan Opera House. She contrived that back of the weakness and corruption of the Queen was a kind of ruined power, which flared out in the appointed moment when Klytemnestra, receiving the false news of Orestes's death, retired from the scene. It was a complete and thoroughly developed interpretation.

The role of Orestes is very difficult to present in the dramatic sense, since he has little to do but to look like a classic statue of vengeance. It is not easy. Mr. Schorr did not wholly fulfill this requirement of his part. What he did do was his excellent singing. Miss Ljungberg maybe pardoned if she did not always show the utmost sureness and authority, since it was apprehended until only a short time before the performance at the Metropolitan that she would have to take the principal rôle from Mme. Kappel, and Miss Ljungberg had been preparing both the parts of Elektra and Chrysothemis until near the time of performance. Her contribution can better he estimated with later hearings of this opera. A small part taken extremely well was that of the foster-father of Orestes by Siegfried Tappolet. But every rôle was excellently prepared and in place, including Miss Divine's "confidant," and the group of serving-women.

The stage direction, most of it well contrived by Mr. Sanine, was poorly conceived for the last moments of the drama. At that place the members of the chorus crowded around and too near Elektra. It is obvious that here, above all other moments, she should dominate the stage, and all others should be separated from her in such a way as to throw the figure of the exultant Maenad into the strongest and most heroic relief. Instead of this, Mr. Sanine's crowd takes upon itself an importance it should in no wise possess. Each member assumes positions and expressions; the stage is cluttered up; a part of the final effect is lost. This is anything but Greek and anything but simplicity in the same way the figure of Chrysothemis, in the final interchanges with Elektra, is too much in the picture and takes misleading positions, for it is consternation, above all, that seizes Chrysothemis at this moment and pulls her apart from her sister. In a word, the actions of secondary group and characters are here discordantly aggressive, obtrusive and overdone.

The opera "EIektra" had a signal and historic triumph yesterday in the Metropolitan Opera. House. The Greek drama of Elektra's vengeance upon her mother and her mother's paramour for the slaying of Agamemnon had an atmosphere of suspense, tragedy and the workings of fate, felt from the first, and accumulating doom. The performance was a great achievement. The public realized this, acclaiming opera and interpretation. Thus "Elektra" at the Metropolitan, came belatedly into its own.

Photographs of Elektra by Carlo Edwards.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).