»Electra,« Richard Strauss’s newest operatic sensation, was produced for the first time on any stage before a brilliant international audience at the Saxon Royal Opera here to-night with a cast the principals of which were Mme. Krull as Electra, Mme. Schumann-Heink as Clytemnestra, and Perron as Orestes. With one act lasting an hour and forty minutes, no opportunity for scenic display neglected, and 112 players in the orchestra. for [sic] thrilling histrionic, vocal, and orchestral effects, »Electra« outrivals »Salome.«
It is a prodigious orchestral orgy, with nothing that can be called music in the score, and makes superhuman demands upon the physical and mental powers of the singers and players charged with its interpretation. There are, nevertheless, fine dramatic effects, and Mme. Schumann-Heink is superb in her delineation of the rôle of Clytemnestra.
The strongest scenes are the recognition between Electra and Orestes and Electra’s denunciation of Clytemnestra. It is another gory plot of this accomplished artist in the gory, and in the end Electra dies in a frenzy of madness. As a stage work the piece does not approach »Salome,« either in interest or in intelligibility. »Salome« exhibits a greater variety of the emotions. Here revenge is the only inspiration of the psychological passion of which Strauss is so fond.
The book by Hugo von Hoffmannsthal [sic], based on Greek mythology, is Macbeth and Hamlet rolled into one. Agamemnon, the father of Electra and Orestes, has been murdered by his faithless wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. Electra, crazed by the deed, urges her brother Orestes to commit a double murder and destroy both his mother and her paramour. The note in »Salome« is the erotic perverse, in »Electra« the neurotic maniacal.
The marvelous imitative effects of the orchestra are blood curdling, drastic, and gruesome to the last degree. It is fortunate for hearers the piece is no longer, for it would else be too nerve racking. The unprecedented number of critics, managers, and musicians present from all over the world included Van Der Stucken, Oskar Fried, Max Schillings, Heinrich Noren, Jean Nicodé and Etelka Gerster. The royal family was represented by Prince George, brother of the King of Saxony, and a tremendous ovation followed for Herr Strauss, who is a great favorite in Dresden, though there was some opposition in the audience. The orchestra, under Ernst von Schuch, made an unparalleled impression. The success of the opera elsewhere, however, is problematic.
The report is current here, but not yet confirmed, that Oscar Hammerstein of New York has secured the rights for $5,000 cash and guaranteed royalties of $18,000 for thirty performances, in addition to $6,000 for the rights for the reproduction of the music. Herr Strauss’s local publisher has already paid $27,500 for the music.
Hoffmannsthal’s drama was produced in New York at the Garden Theatre on Feb. 11, 1908, in an English version by Arthur Symons, in which the principal parts were enacted by Mrs. Beerbohm Tree, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Charles Dalton, and Ben Webster. The original German version of it was first performed in Berlin in October, 1903, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, who is a Viennece [sic], is the most conspicuous representative of the romantic tendency in German literature. The story of »Electra« is that which Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and probably many lesser Greek dramatists of antiquity employed; but Hoffmannsthal has left little of the spirit of the Greek tragedy in his work. The characters have been put into the transforming crucible of a neurotic age, and have come out many removes from the stoic fatalists of the Greek world.
It has been said of the play that all the change in spirit, the enlargement of certain episodes, the perversion of the characterization, and the alteration of the language, have been directed toward the creation of »something curious and sensual,« as Oscar Wilde said of his »Salome« – something perversely cruel and bloody. The traditional chorus of the Greek drama has been eliminated, chattering servants taking its place. Electra has been reduced from regal dignity to rags, and thirst for blood takes the place of her high and, in the Greek sense, religious avenging purpose.
The keynote of the character is selfpity, not filial love. The noble restraint, the pathetic suggestion of the Greek drama, have been supplanted by long and literal descriptions of the murder, the Queen’s dreams, the enforced virginity of the daughters. As for fate and the decrees of the gods. Electra specifically states that she knows no gods.
Strauss is said to have declared, while he was at work on the score, that his »Electra« would create »ten times more sensation than ›Salome.‹« He said that the music drama resembles »Salome« in orchestral coloring[,] and follows Hoffmanthal’s [sic] play almost word for word, as »Salome« follows Wilde’s.