Helen of Troy

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1 (Hélène) (Offenbach: La Belle Hélène). Sop. Queen, wife of Menelaus, who finds her in bed with Paris, who won her in a contest. Instructed by a priest (Paris in disguise) to sail for Cythera. As she obeys, the Trojan War begins. Created (1864) by Hortense Schneider.

2 (Tippett: King Priam). Mez. Wife of the Greek King Menelaus, her abduction to Troy by Paris brings about the start of the Trojan War. Created (1962) by Margreta Elkins.

3 (Helena) (Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena). Sop. Wife of Menelaus and mother of Hermione. At the beginning of the opera Helen and Menelaus are in a ship and Menelaus is approaching his sleeping wife with a dagger, intending to kill her after her unfaithfulness with Paris (whom he has already killed). She is saved by the sorceress Aithra, who causes a storm which shipwrecks them near her palace. Aithra befriends Helen and gives her a special potion—lotus juice—which causes forgetfulness. She gives this to Menelaus, but he then forgets that he did not kill her and assumes she is someone else. Aithra comes to the rescue with a second potion and Helen and Menelaus are reunited. Aria: Zweite Brautnacht! Zaubernacht (‘Second wedding night! Magic night’). Created (1928) by Elisabeth Rethberg. She was not the soprano Strauss wanted. She had a lovely voice but not the glamour he had in mind for the beautiful Helen of Troy. When Strauss conducted the Vienna première, Helen was sung by Maria Jeritza, on whom he had modelled the role. Other famous exponents have included Viorica Ursuleac, Leonie Rysanek, and Gwyneth Jones. In the British première (1997) by Garsington Opera, Helen was well portrayed by Susan Bullock.

4 (Elena) (Boito: Mefistofele). Sop. Helen of Troy, with whom Faust falls in love when he visits classical Greece under the influence of Mefistofele. Created (1868) by Mlle Reboux.

Subjects: Opera.

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