Strauss’s blazing tragedy about an ancient Greek princess hell-bent on revenge comes to the Met in the final opera production by the legendary director Patrice Chéreau, who died in 2014. Esa-Pekka Salonen, who made a riveting Met debut leading Chéreau’s production of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead in 2009, returns to conduct an extraordinary cast headed by Nina Stemme as the obsessed and bloodthirsty title character. Waltraud Meier sings her first Met performances of Klytämnestra, Elektra’s mother and the object of her fury, with Adrianne Pieczonka as Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis; Eric Owensas her exiled brother, Orest; and German tenor Burkhard Ulrich, in his Met debut, as the corrupt monarch Aegisth.
Mycenae, ancient Greece. In the courtyard of the royal palace, servant girls comment on the wild behavior of Elektra, the eldest daughter of the late king Agamemnon. After they have left, Elektra appears, dressed in rags (“Allein! Weh, ganz, allein”). She is obsessed with thoughts of her father’s murder at the hands of her mother, Klytämnestra, and her mother’s lover, Aegisth. Calling on her father’s spirit, she renews her vow of vengeance. Her tirade is interrupted by her younger sister, Chrysothemis, who urges Elektra to give up her obsession with revenge so they both can lead normal lives. Elektra mocks Chrysothemis, who runs off as noises from within the palace announce the approach of Klytämnestra.
The queen staggers in. Drugs, loss of sleep, and fear of retribution for her husband’s murder have made a wreck of her (“Ich habe keine guten Nächte”). Surprised that Elektra will talk to her, she appeals to her daughter’s intelligence and demands to know what she needs to do to find peace of mind. A sacrifice has to be made, Elektra replies. When Klytämnestra fails to comprehend what her daughter is hinting at, Elektra screams at her that it is Klytämnestra herself who must die and that she and her banished brother Orest will kill her (“Was bluten muss?”). Klytämnestra is horrified, but when her confidante runs in and whispers something, her mood changes abruptly. Laughing maniacally, she disappears into the palace.
Her behavior is explained when Chrysothemis reappears with news that Orest is dead. Stunned, Elektra at first refuses to believe her, then tells her sister that she must now help kill Klytämnestra and Aegisth. Chrysothemis runs off in terror. As Elektra frantically starts digging for the buried axe that killed Agamemnon, a stranger appears. She asks him what he wants and he calmly replies that he has been sent to bring news of Orest’s death (“Was willst du, fremder Mensch?”). But when Elektra reveals that she is Agamemnon’s daughter, he tells her Orest lives. Suddenly servants appear, kissing his hands and feet. Frightened, Elektra asks who he is. The dogs in the courtyard know me, the stranger replies, but not my own sister? Crying his name, Elektra gives in to her unspeakable joy and declares she has lived only to avenge their father’s murder. When Orest’s guardian tells him the queen waits inside, the men enter the palace.
Elektra waits anxiously and when a scream is heard she knows Orest has killed their mother. Aegisth arrives, having heard the news of Orest’s death, and Elektra lights his way into the palace with sarcastic courtesy. A moment later he reappears at a window, crying for help, before he is dragged inside and killed. While tumultuous confusion spreads through the palace and courtyard, Elektra, in a state of ecstasy, begins a triumphal dance. Chrysothemis returns but Elektra doesn’t hear her and at the climax of the dance falls dead.