07 Sep 2008

STRAUSS: Die ägyptische Helena — Munich 1956

Die ägyptische Helena: Oper in two acts.

Music composed by Richard Strauss. Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

First Performance: 6 June 1928, Sächsisches Staatstheater Opernhaus, Dresden (revised version, Salzburg, Festspielhaus, 14 August 1933).

Principal Roles:
Helena [Helen] of Troy, wife of Menelaus Soprano
Menelas [Menelaus], her husband Tenor
Hermione, their daughter [role omitted in 1933 version] Soprano
Aithra, a sorceress Soprano
Altair, a nomad chieftain Baritone
Da-ud, his son Tenor
The Omniscient Seashell Contralto
Two Servants of Aithra Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano
Three Elves Two Sopranos, Contralto

Setting: Egypt, 1193-1184 B.C. (after the Trojan War)


In the Egyptian palace of the sorceress Aithra, the omniscient mussel (an all-knowing sea-shell left by Aithra’s lover Poseidon) sights a ship bound for Sparta. On board is the raging Menelaus who is determined to kill Helen for her faithlessness and for causing the death of so many Greeks. A storm is conjured up and the couple are shipwrecked near the palace. Aithra, with the help of some magical lotus juice, convinces Menelaus that Helen of Troy was an illusion of the gods, that the real Helen was faithful, and that they should be sent on a second honeymoon to an oasis beneath the Atlas Mountains. Helen and Menelaus are entertained by a desert sheik and his son, but the foursome find themselves trapped in a symbolic re-enactment of events in Troy that led to the death of Paris. As a result of this tragic psychotherapy Helen realises that thanks to Aithra's potion she will always be living as an impostor. She and Menelaus take a draught of remembrance and embrace the reality of their former love, sealed by the appearance of her daughter Hermione.

[Synopsis Source: Boosey & Hawkes]

Click here for the complete libretto.