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PreviousJuly 2022

Those are Elektra’s words to her sister Chrysothemis in answer to the latter’s announcement that Orestes, their long-awaited brother, has miraculously appeared and is being given a triumphant welcome, having killed, one after the other, Clytemnestra, their mother, and Aegisthus, her lover and the new ruler of the city. She then speaks her last words, before collapsing, dead: ‘I bear the burden of joy, and I lead you in the dance. There is only one thing fitting for those who are happy as we are: to be silent and dance.’ Her father’s death, the death of Agamemnon, is finally avenged. The cycle of violence is brought to an end. Perhaps the cycle of life can finally begin. In her solitary madness, entirely fixated on her father’s ghost, Elektra was like a living tomb for the hero. Elektra dies a few minutes after her mother, who was, of course, her enemy, but without whom life now no longer has any meaning, because the world of yesterday, whether adored or hated, was her only reason to live and it has dis appeared forever. Only Orestes and Chrysothemis will try to bring life to this devasted wasteland. The catastrophe that began with the sacrifice of their sister Iphigenia to help the Greek armies to conquer Troy, about 20 years previously, a murder for which Clytemnestra never forgave Agamemnon, seems to have come to an end. For a while. Orestes will now be left to live with the memory of an unforgivable murder, a matricide. At night, in Mycenae, Elektra dies in a state of mental and physical exhaustion at the moment when her life’s sole obsession is realized. She dies dancing around the axe that killed her father.

In Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s spectacularly powerful and savage play, with its language of unparalleled richness and quality, first staged in 1903 in Berlin by Max Reinhardt, only the slightest trace remains of the Sophocles text that inspired it. Reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Die Geburt der Tragödie and the then very recent Studien über Hysterie by Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud as well as Freud’s Die Traumdeutung profoundly influenced the young Austrian writer. The dazzling ancient Greece portrayed by Winckelmann and Goethe has been replaced, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, by its dark, brutal and almost barbaric side. The labyrinths of the human soul are now obscured by darkness. Pathologies unearthed by the emergence of psychoanalysis shape the imaginary world of creative writers, giving added complexity to their fictional characters.
After seeing Gertrud Eysoldt perform the title role of this Elektra, the Bavarian composer became fascinated and decided as early as November 1903 to create a one-act opera based on the play. For his libretto, he would shorten it in places in order to concentrate on the relationships between the two sisters, Elektra, the force of death, and Chrysothemis, the force of life, between Elektra and her mother, Clytemnestra, and between Elektra and her brother, Orestes, who appears to her like an incredible vision in the twilight: he finally gives meaning to her existence and accomplishes the revenge, about which she has never stopped fantasizing.
After three years of composing, Richard Strauss presented his opera on 25 January 1909 at the Royal Opera House in Dresden. The effect was cataclysmic. From the very first chords, the composer puts the listener in a unique state of tension. Elektra’s lamentation, her first monologue, ‘Alone! Alas, all alone!’, precedes the invocation of Agamemnon, a desperate prayer for the return of her father’s ghost at the hour when he was killed by Clytemnestra: a masterpiece of modern music, it is unforgettable once heard.

Program and cast

Creative Team

Franz Welser-Möst - Conductor
Krzysztof Warlikowski - Director
Małgorzata Szczęśniak - Sets and Costumes
Felice Ross - Lighting
Denis Guéguin - Video
Claude Bardouil - Choreography
Christian Longchamp - Dramaturgy


Tanja Ariane Baumgartner - Klytämnestra
Aušrine Stundyte - Elektra
Asmik Grigorian - Chrysothemis
Michael Laurenz - Aegisth
Derek Welton - Orest
Tilmann Rönnebeck - Orest's Tutor
Matthäus Schmidlechner - A Young Servant
Sonja Šarić - The Overseer
Bonita Hyman - First Maidservant
Evgenia Asanova - Second Maidservant
Deniz Uzun - Third Maidservant
Sinéad Campbell-Wallace - Fourth Maidservant
Natalia Tanasii - Fifth Maidservant


Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus
Ernst Raffelsberger - Chorus Master
Vienna Philharmonic


It was Max Reinhardt who suggested that the Winter Riding School should be converted, and it was also his idea to transform the Summer Riding School (Felsenreitschule) into a theatre. During the first half of the 17th century conglomerate rock was quarried here for the building of the cathedral. In 1693, during the reign of Prince-Archbishop Johann Ernst Thun, according to plans by the Baroque master architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, three tiers of 96 arcades were hewn into the walls of the disused quarry so that from here people could watch equestrian displays and animal baiting events.


In 1926, when Max Reinhardt first attempted to use the Felsenreitschule to stage Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters for the Salzburg Festival, the ambience was ideal for the “realistic” character comedy in the style of popular theatre: the action took place on a so-called Pawlatschenbühne, a small raised platform, the ground consisted of compressed earth and the audience sat on wooden benches. In 1933 Clemens Holzmeister built a remarkable set for the production of Faust in the Felsenreitschule, the Faust Town which is still regarded as one of the most impressive transformations of this venue. The first opera production in the Felsenreitschule took place in 1948 when Herbert von Karajan conducted Gluck’sOrfeo ed Euridice.


From the end of the 1960s radical conversion and adaptation work took place, mainly according to plans by the “festival architect” Clemens Holzmeister. An understage area, an orchestral pit and a lighting bridge were installed, a weatherproof roll-back roof to offer protection against rain and cool summer evenings, and finally an auditorium with boxes and circles as well as a depot for scenery were created.

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s staging of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, which was presented here every summer from 1978 to 1986, achieved legendary status. The same is true of Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Anthony and Cleopatra in the productions by Peter Stein and Deborah Warner (Coriolanus),which in the early 1990s were internationally acclaimed.


When the Haus für Mozart was built, the Felsenreitschule already received a new audience grandstand, which resulted in improved sightlines and acoustics for the audience.


Improvements are:

- A new roof construction with two fixed girders at the edges and three elements supported by five telescope cantilevers: the slightly inclined pitch roof consisting of three mobile segments resting on five telescope arms will be retractable and expandable within six minutes. Hanging points on the telescope cantilevers for stage technology (chain hoists), improved acoustical and heat protection and two lighting bridges will optimize the stage action.

-     New security technology including electrical installations, stage lighting, effect lighting and effect sound.

-     In addition, the interior expansion of the 3rd floor will be completed at that time, and the building shell of the newly constructed 4th floor under the roof of the Felsenreitschule will be made available to the Festival – this being the last instance in which new space can be created within the Festival District.

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