Queen Klytämnestra

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(Strauss: Elektra). Mez. or cont. She was the wife of Agamemnon, and mother of Elektra, Chrysothemis, and Orest. She helped her lover Aegisth murder Agamemnon in his bath and they now live together at the palace. They have banished Elektra to the grounds to live like an animal. The life Klytämnestra has led has left her somewhat raddled, eyelids too heavy to keep open, and she leans for support on her stick and her confidante, jewellery weighing her down. She dreams about the absent Orest coming to take revenge on her. Her nightmares keep her awake—something crawls over her, the marrow melts in her bones, she feels as if her body is rotting away. She asks Elektra what she can do to stop these dreams, and Elektra tells her they will stop when she makes a sacrifice, the sacrifice of a woman—Klytämnestra herself. The queen is terrified: she both hates and fears Elektra. News is given to her that Orest is dead and for the first time she relaxes and laughs—now she is safe. But it is false news, and Orest returns and murders her and Aegisth. Arias: Ich will nichts hören! (‘I will not listen to you!’); Ich habe keine guten Nächte (‘I have bad nights’). Of the three female roles in this opera, Klytämnestra provides the greatest opportunity for a singing‐actress, but they must resist the ever‐present temptation to ‘go over the top’. Some mezzos have made it their own, especially Elisabeth Höngen, Jean Madeira, Martha Mödl, Regina Resnik, Maureen Forrester (who sang it in Pittsburgh in 1989 when she was almost 60), Christa Ludwig, Brigitte Fassbaender, and Marjana Lipovšek. Created (1909) by Ernestine Schumann‐Heink (who apparently said she would never sing the role again—‘it was frightful’. There is a story, maybe apocryphal, that at the dress rehearsal, Strauss called down into the orchestra pit ‘Louder! I can still hear Frau Heink!’). See also Clitemnestre.

Subjects: Opera.

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