Synopsis: Elektra

von Richard Strauss

The inner courtyard of the palace of Mycenae

Elektra is prevented from carrying out her customary mourning of her father by the presence of the maids, who spitefully discuss her behavior. Only one stands up for her, admiring her as a king's daughter and pitying the way she is treated, but she is forced inside by the overseer and beaten.
When the courtyard is clear, Elektra invokes the shade of her father Agamemnon, murdered by his wife Klytmnestra and her lover Aegisth on his return from Troy. She calls on him to appear to her, promising that she, her sister Chrysothemis and their brother Orest will celebrate his funeral rites when his death has been avenged.
Chrysothemis comes to warn Elektra that Klytmnestra and Aegisth are planning to shut her away in a tower. Chrysothemis, less obsessed with revenge than Elektra, longs to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the palace and lead a normal life, marry and bear a child, even if only to a peasant.
She warns Elektra to avoid Klytmnestra, who has dreamed that her exiled son Orest is pursuing her to avenge his father, and is afraid, being most to be feared in that state. But Elektra decides to confront her mother and stands her ground as Chrysothemis runs away. Klytmnestra, supported by her confidante and trainbearer, without whose aid she seems scarcely able to support herself, at first abuses Elektra, but then, misreading Elektra's double-edged answers, sends away her attendants, ignoring their warnings that Elektra is baiting her. She asks if Elektra knows a remedy against bad dreams, believing that Elektra will tell her what form of sacrifice she must make. She does not understand when Elektra tells her that when the appropriate sacrifice has been made she will indeed dream no longer.
Passing abruptly from the cryptic answer that the sacrifice must be made by someone who is a stranger yet part of the household, Elektra asks when Orest will be allowed to return from exile. Klytmnestra answers that he is weak in the head, but Elektra taunts her with being afraid of him and reveals that the blood which must flow is hers, describing in detail the vengeance Orest will take. Klytmnestra's terror is changed to exultation when the confidante comes form the palace and whispers to her. Elekara does not understand until Chrysothemis runs out crying that Orest is dead; two strangers, and old man and a young one, have brought the news. A servant rides out to tell Aegisth.
Elektra decides that the task of vengeance must now fall on her and Chrysothemis, but all her flattery of her sister's strength and her promise to prepare her marriage bed and serve her like a slave are not enough to sway her. Chryosthemis, who only wants to escape, runs away and Elektra calls a curse after her. Deciding to act alone, Elektra begins to dig up the axe with which Agamemnon was murdered and which she has preserved for the deed of vengeance.
Realising that the young stranger is watching her, she reacts angrily, regretting that he should be alive while Orest is dead. He gradually realises who she is, but even when the servants fall at his feet, she does not realise that this is Orest until he tells her. Her ecstatic welcome is cut short by the tutor's warning that the noise will give them away. He tells Orest that Klytmnestra is alone in the palace, without a man to defend her.
Orest goes inside and Elektra is distressed that she failed to give him the axe. Klytmnestra's shriek rings out and Elektra calls on Orest to strike again. Chrysothemis and the maids run out of the palace in confusion.
They run back inside in fear as Aegisth arrives. He is puzzled by Elektra's unaccustomed obsequious greeting and her offer to light his way indoors. He goes in and is killed by Orest. The women rush out again in confusion and there is fighting between Orest's followers and those remaining loyal to Aegisth, ending in the victory of the former. Chrysothemis calls to Elektra that Orest has returned and killed Aegisth. Elektra is unable to move from the spot, finally bursting into a dance of exultation and collapsing as Chrysothemis beats on the door and calls Orest.