This week I get to fulfill a promise made some time ago to fans of Elektra, both of my generation and the younger Parterriani: the very first Vienna post-war performance of the opera. The one-time-only cast for the opening of the new production in the first season in the restored Haus auf dem Ring on 8 April 1956 featured three dynamos: Christel Goltz, Margarete Klose, and Hilde Zadek. On the podium was Karl Böhm.
Given the recent practice of toning down the opera in the aftermath of the years in which it was dominated by Birgit Nilsson, Regina Resnik, and Leonie Rysanek, this performance represents a good old-fashioned blood-and-guts interpretation.
Goltz, who died in 2008 at age 96, sang dozens of performances with the company between 1944 and 1970, with her feature roles being Elektra, Salome, and die Färberin in Die Frau ohne Schatten (the later two of which she recorded for Decca). With only six performances of Salome at the Met in the 1954/1955 season and a handful of recordings, her blazing dramatic soprano remains relatively unknown in the 21st century.
Klose (1899-1968) was ending her stage career at the time of this performance, and sang only the premiere of this production (her frequent replacement through 1963 was Elisabeth Höngen), which turned out to be her farewell to the company with which she had debuted as Klytämnestra in March 1941.
She retired in 1961 and concentrated on teaching at the Salzburg Mozarteum until her sudden death. Today she is most remembered for her Fricka on the 1954 Wilhelm Fürtwängler recording of Die Walküre for EMI (which is where I discovered her, along with Leonie).
Zadek, who turned 99 in December, was another Wiener Staatsoper company mainstay from 1947 through her retirement in 1971, with eight performances at the Met in four different operas over six weeks in 1952/1953 (Donna Anna, Eva, Elsa, and Aida!).
Somewhat ironically, the two biggest stars in the cast take lesser roles: Max Lorenz as Aegisth and Christa Ludwig and as the Third Maid.
If you are a true Elektra fan and haven’t heard this (at least for a couple of years), or are a newcomer to the opera, I suggest you find 97 minutes without interruptions to fully appreciate Strauss at his most demented.