Royal Opera, Covent Garden

A Part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series

Above: Production photo from Elektra Credit: Tristram Kenton

For cast lists and playlists, please visit the Opera Series Overview.

When a precious hoard of gold is stolen from the river Rhine, it unleashes a chain of destructive events, pitting gods and mortals against one another for generations. Wagner’s Ring cycle boasts some of the greatest music ever written for the opera stage. Join us as we embark on a spectacular journey into the world of myth, dream and memory, with the figure of Erda – Mother Earth herself – at its center. Antonio Pappano conducts Barrie Kosky’s bold new imagining of Wagner’s Das Rheingold – which marks the start of a new Ring cycle for The Royal Opera – with an outstanding cast including Christopher Maltman (Wotan) and Christopher Purves (Alberich).

Then, we hear a performance with a score memorably described by one critic as ‘the colour of blood’, Richard Strauss’s audacious Elektra, an adaptation of the iconic Greek tragedy has shocked and excited audiences since its 1909 premiere. Expect musical and dramatic fireworks as Christof Loy directs a truly extraordinary cast, with Aušrinė Stundytė in the title role and Karita Mattila as the guilt-stricken Klytämnestra, conducted by Antonio Pappano.

Klytämnestra plotted with her lover Ägisth to murder her husband King Agamemnon. Her daughter Elektra sent her brother Orest away to protect him. She is now an outcast in her mother’s home, and her unkempt appearance and repeated honoring of her dead father provoke Klytämnestra’s anger. Elektra longs only for revenge. Her sister Chrysothemis is desperate to escape from the palace. Klytämnestra is wracked with guilt and Elektra tells her it will only be assuaged by the queen’s own violent death. News comes that Orest is dead. Then a mysterious man arrives at the court. Elektra recognizes the man as her brother, Orest. She is overjoyed. Orest begins to take his vengeance by brutally murdering his mother. Ägisth arrives, unaware of what is happening. Orest strikes him down too. Orest is acclaimed by the court and Elektra finally performs her dance of triumph, which has its own deadly conclusion. Grief turns into a violent quest for revenge. King Agamemnon has been murdered by his wife Klytämnestra and her lover, Ägisth. Princess Chrysothemis urges caution, but her sister, Elektra, cannot rest until she has killed her own mother.


Das Rheingold Synopsis

The branches of the World Ash Tree held together the universe: the upper realms of the gods; Riesenheim, home of the giants; the earth, with the Rhine and his daughters; and Nibelheim, a subterranean realm inhabited by the Nibelungs. The god Wotan drank from the spring of eternal knowledge beneath the World Ash Tree, sacrificing an eye in return for wisdom. He tore a branch from the tree and with it ruled the world, marrying Fricka, guardian of marriage.

The three Rhinedaughters – Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde – are playing. Flosshilde warns her sisters to pay more attention to the duty laid upon them by the Rhinefather of guarding the Rhinegold. Alberich, a Nibelung, watches them, utterly enchanted. Each in turn encourages his advances then cruelly rejects him. Sunlight falls on the gold. Alberich is mesmerized by the sight of the Rhinedaughters revelling in the treasure and asks about it. They tell him that it is the Rhinegold, which if made into a ring would give its owner infinite power over the world; it can be forged, however, only by someone who renounces love. Vehemently cursing love, Alberich seizes the gold.

Wotan sees the fortress built for the gods by the giants Fafner and Fasolt. Wotan is overjoyed at the sight of it. Fricka reminds him that as payment he promised to give the giants her sister, Freia. Wotan dismisses her fears, reminding her that she too wanted the fortress. She reproaches Wotan for his willingness to trade love for power, but he replies that he never had any intention of giving Freia away: he is depending on Loge’s ingenuity to solve the problem.

Freia arrives, terrified, followed by Fafner and Fasolt. Wotan tells the giants to choose another form of payment. Fasolt points to the laws carved on Wotan’s spear and reminds him that they are binding. While Fasolt is eager to have a woman in their home, Fafner is also aware that Freia alone knows how to tend the golden apples that give the gods eternal youth, and without her they will die.

The giants prepare to take Freia away and her brothers, Froh and Donner, attempt to intervene. Wotan stops Donner using force.

At last Loge appears. Wotan complains that he would never have agreed to the contract if Loge had not promised to find a way of saving Freia. Loge says he has travelled the world looking for an acceptable substitute for Freia, but has learnt that nothing is of greater value than a woman’s love. He found only one person who would sacrifice love: Alberich, who stole the Rhinegold. Loge tells Wotan that the Rhinedaughters want his help to get it back. Fasolt and Fafner ask about the gold and Loge explains that a ring forged from it gives absolute power. Gods and giants alike are greedy for it. The giants say they will exchange Freia for Alberich’s treasure.

As the giants leave with Freia, the gods rapidly age: without her apples they are helpless. Wotan resolves to get the gold and descends with Loge to Nibelheim.

Alberich torments his brother Mime, who has made a magic helmet, the Tarnhelm, which can transform its wearer into any shape he wishes. Alberich demonstrates its powers. He leaves as Wotan and Loge arrive.

Mime tells Loge his tale of woe and recounts how the Nibelungs, once contented craftsmen, are enslaved by Alberich. Alberich returns, brandishing his ring and driving his terrified slaves back. Loge reminds him of their former friendship, but Alberich scornfully dismisses him and boasts of the fabulous power of the ring: he gained it by renouncing love and will use it to overthrow the gods. Loge challenges Alberich to demonstrate the Tarnhelm’s magic. Alberich turns himself into a giant figure, whereupon Loge and Wotan pretend to be frightened. When Loge asks if he can become very small, Alberich transforms himself into a toad. Wotan and Loge pounce on him, grab the Tarnhelm and drag him out of Nibelheim.

Loge and Wotan mock Alberich and tell him that the cost of his freedom is his gold. Alberich plans to keep the ring, knowing it will enable him to create more treasure. He orders the Nibelungs to bring his ransom and demands his freedom and the Tarnhelm, but Loge claims the helmet. Wotan now insists Alberich give him the ring too. Alberich protests that the ring is more important than his life.

When Wotan reminds him that he acquired the ring through theft, Alberich accuses him of hypocrisy. Alberich’s sin was against himself alone; Wotan’s will be against all existence if he takes the ring. Wotan tears it away from Alberich, who puts a curse on it: it will bring anguish and death to those who possess it while everyone else will be consumed by envy.

Freia returns with the giants, restoring the gods’ strength. Fasolt does not want to give Freia back, and orders that the gold be piled up to hide her from his sight. Loge and Froh heap it up but Fafner claims he can still see Freia’s hair. The Tarnhelm has to be added to the pile. Fasolt cries that he can still see her eye so Fafner demands that the ring on Wotan’s finger be used to stop the gap. Loge says Wotan intends to return it to the Rhinedaughters. Wotan insists on keeping it. The giants are about to leave with Freia when Erda, the earth goddess, appears. She reminds Wotan of the curse on the ring and says a dark day is dawning for the gods: he must surrender the ring.

Erda disappears and Wotan agrees to hand over the ring. Freia is freed. Fafner and Fasolt argue about the division of the treasure. When Fasolt seizes the ring, Fafner kills him. Wotan is horrified at the power of the ring’s curse.

Donner summons a storm to clear the air. A rainbow bridge leads the gods to their new fortress, which Wotan names Valhalla (hall of the slain). As the gods make their way towards it, Loge reflects that they are moving towards their destruction. Wotan dismisses the Rhinedaughters’ lament for their lost gold.


Elektra Synopsis

Elektra was still a child when she witnessed the treacherous slaughter of her father, King Agamemnon, while he slept. It was her mother Klytämnestra and her mother’s lover Ägisth who committed the murder.Elektra’s younger brother Orest was sent out of the country, as their mother feared that he would grow up to avenge what she had done. In the meantime, Klytämnestra has humiliated her daughter Elektra, who openly flaunts her hatred for her, by making her a maidservant. While Elektra’s sister Chrysothemis is able to live a privileged life at court, her mother nevertheless keeps her away from men, fearing that she too could give birth to a potential avenger. Elektra herself has now spent countless years waiting for Orest to return and avenge their father’s death.

The maids have nothing but contempt for the princess Elektra, who has been reduced to being a servant. When one of the maids speaks up for Elektra, she is immediately set upon.In her solitude Elektra turns to her murdered father, addressing him, and yearning for him to take her in his arms. As if repeating a ritual, she promises him that the day of vengeance will come, and dreams of a blood bath in honor of Agamemnon.

Her sister Chrysothemis begs her to give up this delusion and abandon the idea of vengeance. Only then will they both be able to lead normal lives, and Chrysothemis can devote herself to love and a husband, and become a mother. Elektra despises her sister for this normative fantasy.

Klytämnestra demands to speak to Elektra: she has had a sleepless night and feels that only by talking to her daughter can she find peace of mind. She believes in rites, and in the need for a sacrificial victim to soothe her conscience. Elektra enjoys hearing how her mother agonizes night after night, unable to sleep. Eventually, Elektra explains to her that she, Klytämnestra, is the sacrificial victim that must be slaughtered, and gloatingly describes every detail of her mother’s imminent murder.

Just as Elektra is exulting, Klytämnestra receives news that Orest has been killed in a horrible accident. A shocked Chrysothemis explains to her sister that he was dragged to death by his own horses. But Elektra allows herself no time to grieve. She tries to persuade – or rather, force – Chrysothemis to murder her own mother and Ägisth that very night. Horrified, Chrysothemis, who desires love, not hatred, runs off.

As Elektra sets about digging up the axe her father was murdered with in order to exact vengeance, she suddenly finds herself facing an unknown man. The two eventually recognize one another: he is her brother Orest, who has had word of his death falsely circulated to ease his path to Klytämnestra. Now he is here, with a Companion, to finally achieve the vengeance that Elektra has so long been waiting for. Orest and his Companion are let into the house and shortly afterward the panic-stricken screams of the dying Klytämnestra can be heard.

Ägisth, who now spends his evenings away from his wife, then returns home, and Elektra herself leads him to the front door. The same murderous scenario is enacted and Ägisth is heard screaming as he is promptly executed by Orest.

Elektra’s mission has been fulfilled.


Summaries and synopses provided courtesy of Royal Opera, UK.

About the Host:
Lisa Flynn has been a program host and producer for WFMT since 1991. She presents The New Releases and has hosted many programs for the WFMT Radio Network, including War Letters (which won the 2002 Peter Lisagor Award) and a series of live broadcasts from Salzburg to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006. As WFMT’s midday weekday announcer, Lisa hosts live studio performances and interviews guest artists including Renée Fleming, John Adams, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, John Eliot Gardiner, and many others. Before coming to Chicago, Lisa presented classical music at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, and at WMFE and WUCF in Orlando, Florida. She holds a music degree from the University of Central Florida.


This program is a part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series, a series designed to complement the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts to fill out the year with great Opera content. The series begins in June and lasts until the end of November.


Category: Operas
Duration: 2-hour / Varies by Opera
Frequency: Flexible
Availability: 07/13/2024 - 07/19/2024

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