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Work of the Week – Richard Strauss: Die ägyptische Helena

Richard Strauss’ opera Die ägyptische Helena received its world premiere in 1923 in Dresden. This year on 9 December, a new production of the opera will open at La Scala in Milan, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst and directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf.
The libretto for Strauss’ opera was created by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, with whom the composer had collaborated previously on a number of works. The libretto for the first act was completed quickly, but disagreements between the two led to delays in the work’s completion.

Richard Strauss – Die ägyptische Helena: Recollection and oblivion

The story centres around the sorceress Aithra’ discovery of the plot by Menalas, the King of Sparta, to kill his wife, Helena, over her infidelity during the Trojan War. Aithra seeks to prevent the murder by giving the couple a potion that makes them both susceptible to suggestion. She then assures Menelas that his wife was actually safe in Egypt and that, when the Trojans had initially abducted Helena, the gods had intervened and replaced her with a phantom.

The processes of the soul by which this reconciliation had been caused are the content of Hofmannsthal’s poetry, and they offered the musician the most grateful task. Richard Strauss

There will be a total of six performances of Die ägyptische Helena in Milan during November, with the final night taking place on the 23rd. Strauss’ operas Der Rosenkavalier and Salome also receive performances during November, at the Staatstheater Wiesbaden and Staatsoper Berlin respectively.

Photo: Marcus Lieberenz