Vengeful, implacable, pathological—the character of Electra has gripped audiences for nearly 2,500 years. Throughout her virtual existence, this mesmerizing protagonist, with her notorious lust for revenge and morbid father fixation, has given rise to representations and inspired discussion in formats as diverse as Ancient Greek tragedy, Expressionist opera, silent film, Marvel comics, and Jungian psychology. A prime example is Richard Strauss’s Elektra, a searing masterpiece of early 20th-century theater that sets the title character on an inexorable path to a final cataclysm of violence. 

Patrice Chéreau, who directed the Met’s production, viewed this opera as a re-reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with both title characters destroyed by the same fantasy of vengeance. “One can view in Elektra the ravages of a deadly faithfulness,” Chéreau explained when his staging premiered. “As in the Shakespeare, you can see the black wing of depression at work, with its exhausting alternation of wariness, fear, panic, and exultation.” Written early in Strauss’s operatic career, Elektra perfectly embodies this unremitting cycle of violence called forth by the Greek tragedy.

In addition to offering students an overview of the Ancient Greek world that produced the story of Elektra, this guide asks students to both empathize with and critique the title character’s feelings and actions. Central to the tale are questions of justice and pain, grief and resilience that remain as vital today as they were two-and-a-half millennia ago, and the opera offers opportunities for not only critical thinking but also self-discovery. Each layer of Elektra’s story—including her origins in Greek mythology, her musical depiction by Richard Strauss, and her embodiment on the Met stage by soprano Nina Stemme—enriches our understanding of this femme fatale. At the same time, recognizing how Strauss’s anti-hero differs from her Classical forebear will allow students to develop a deeper appreciation for this opera’s radical libretto and its seminal score.

Included in the 2015-16 and 2020-21 seasons of HD Live in Schools.