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VIDEO: RARE! Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)
Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

I'm back! I haven't been updating the Lady Rattus blog lately, since I've been focusing on my Photo Journal. Now let me just share with you one of my favorite operas, Elektra by Richard Strauss. It's a bloody opera filled with murder and tragedy, but also some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard, particularly Elektra's Dance in the final scene before she dies.


Technical Note

The scenes in this opera film were ripped from my DVD copies and the subtitles had been manually and lovingly encoded from scratch. I chose to interpret the subtitles as they would make more sense today.

Not everything is included though... I think what I used were about 50% of all the footage from the DVD. Many of them are re-mixed, and if you've watched this before, you will find a different perspective with my version.

The video has been cropped to movie aspect for a cinematic feel, making sure that the faces are always in the frame, and that none of the subtitles smother the faces... thus, I placed them within the bottom black bars instead.

The audio... a little compression here and there to make the soft sound more audible. Equalization gives priority to the middle and lower frequencies.

I badly wanted to undertake this project since 2014 but had been discouraged by the scope of the task: editing the video, cutting up scenes and re-arranging them, remastering the audio, making the sound sync, re-interpreting the subtitles, manually encoding each of the subtitles, making sure the faces are always at the center of the frame, and finally writing this long post.

It's been a fruit of my love and labor, so I'm happy to present this offering to all of you...


by Richard Strauss

Leonie Rysanek, Elektra

Catarina Ligendza, Chrysothemis

Astrid Varnay, Klytemnestra

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Orest

Hans Beirer, Aegisth

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Karl Bohm

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)

Leonie Rysanek as Elektra in Richard Strauss' Opera 'Elektra' (1981)


Synopsis of The Scenes

Elektra's Monologue

The opera opens with the maidservants of the house gossiping about Elektra. This also provides an introduction about her personality. Then follows Elektra's Monologue. The first part is a narration of how her father Agammemnon was murdered by her mother Klytemnestra and her lover Aegisth. In the second half, Elektra sings about the day of revenge.

Confrontation with Klytemnestra

Her mother Klytemnestra had been plagued by nightmares, brought by her guilt. She summons her minions to perform pagan rituals night after night, but to no success. Elektra tempts her mother by telling that she knows the correct sacrifice. She first tells her mother in riddles, then in the middle of the confrontation -- she finally reveals that Klytemnestra herself is to be the sacrifice if she wants her nightmares to end. Klytemnestra then gets the false news that Orest is dead... she bursts into demonic laughter.

The Murder of Klytemnestra and Aegisth

Later, a stranger arrives to confirm the news. He reveals to Elektra that he is her long lost brother, Orest, and that he will perform the deed of vengeance himself. He goes into the house, then screams are heard from within. Aegisth later arrives, not knowing what just happened. Aegisth is merrily escorted by Elektra into the house, little does he know that she is escorting him toward his death.

Elektra's Death Dance

Finally, everyone is rejoicing in the arrival of Orest. Elektra throws herself into a mad hysterical dance. She falls dead and her sister calls their brother Orest for help... but in vain. Elektra's hysterical dance music is one of the most beautiful melodies I've ever heard. You better not skip this scene!


Behind The Scenes

The following videos are behind the scenes for this opera film, Elektra. It was recorded and filmed in 1981. This was Karl Bohm's last wish: to perform Elektra once more, and he finally convinced Leonie Rysanek to take the role after turning it down so many times. This is her one and only performance as Elektra. Karl Bohm died a few months after this recording, never seeing the film.

The Klytemnestra here, Astrid Varnay, was once a famous Elektra herself. She was known to be a good actress and changed the way opera used to be a 'stand there and sing'. Her intelligence can also be seen in this document.

Leonie Rysanek is well known as Chrysothemis, Elektra's sister. In her final years, she became mezzo soprano and took on the role of Klytemnestra. She, together with Gwyneth Jones, were the only ones who performed all leading ladies of the opera. All of them difficult in their own.

Leonie Rysanek this time as Klytemnestra

Leonie Rysanek as Chrysothemis


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