Metropolitan Opera 2017-18 Preview: Hildegard Behrens, Nina Stemme, Birgit Nilsson & The Met’s 22 ‘Elektra’ Interpreters

By David Salazar

When Strauss’ “Elektra” returns to the stage on Thursday, March 1 at the Metropolitan Opera, it will take part 109th performance with the company.

The role is often considered one of the most challenging in the repertoire, if not the most difficult. The soprano is tasked with a lengthy evening with barely any rest and no intermission to aid her in recouping her strength. Acting and singing are of highest demand in this role and only few can not only sing it, but expect lasting careers thereafter.

Christine Goerke, who will inhabit the crazed anti-heroine in the Strauss masterpiece will be tasked with the role, a job she has handily quite famously to this point around the world. Two different reviews from OperaWire have already touted her as a revelation (check here and here) in the role; Friday’s review is likely to follow along the same lines.

She is set to be Elektra number 22 at the Met and in honor of the opera’s hotly anticipated revival, here is a look at the singers who have taken their turn at the Met in the role.

Gertrude Kappel

Kappel was the Met’s first ever Elektra, taking on the role for the first time on Dec. 3, 1932. She would go on to perform it five times total, the last four performances paired with “Il Signor Bruschino.”

Rose Pauly

Pauly would sing eight total performances of “Elektra,” her first coming on Jan. 7, 1938 and her last on Jan. 30, 1939. Her performances featured the opera often paired with “Gianni Schicchi” or “Amelia Goes to the Ball.”

Astrid Varnay

The legendary singer took on the role five times at the Met in her career, the first showcase coming on Feb. 18, 1952 and the last just a month later.

Inge Borkh

One of the famed interpreters of the role in the 20th century, Borkh appeared just five times in the role at the Met during the 1960-61 season. She revived the work at the Met after it had disappeared for nearly a decade from its stage.

Gerda Lammers

In 1962, Lammers took on the role six times, including twice on tour in April. Her first performance was on March 16, 1962.

Birgit Nilsson

The great Swedish soprano holds the record for most performances of the role in Met history with 17 total presentations. Her first was on Oct. 28, 1966 and that season she would take it on five times. During the 1967-68 season she returned to it three times before another five performances came in the 1970-71 season. Her final showcases as Elektra came during the 1979-80 season.

Danica Mastilovic

The soprano made her Met debut with the role on Nov. 25, 1975 and would go on to sing it nine times total with the company, including a stint during the 1978-79 season.

Ursurla Schröder-Feinen

The soprano only got three performances of the role during the 1975-76 season.

Ute Vinzing

Vinzing appeared in the legendary role five times during the December 1984 revival at the Met.

Hildegard Behrens

One of the defining Elektra interpreters of all-time (if not THE Elektra), Behrens’ adventure in the role is actually one of the most compelling stories of the 1990s with the company. She went from failing in her opening run on March 26, 1992, canceling her remaining performances of that run to receiving one of the greatest ovations in Met history when she returned to the role in Jan. of 1994. She only sang five performances, but her legacy endures on a DVD release. Learn more about that story from our interview with the President of Hildegard Behrens Foundation, Gastón Ormázabal.

Penelope Daner

When Behrens went down after the first performance in 1992, the task fell to Daner to take over the role. She sang six performances that season and then took on another two in 1994.

Gwyneth Jones

The great soprano got four performances in 1994, her first on April 1 and her last just 10 days later.

Gabriele Schnaut

Schnaut first sang the role on Feb. 19, 2009 and wound up singing it seven times total, including three performances in 2002.

Deborah Polaski

The other singer to appear as Elektra in 2002 was Polaski, who got a total of four performances during that season.

Susan Bullock

It would be seven years before “Elektra” returned to the Met, and when it did, Bullock led the performance with six total showcases in the season.

Nina Stemme

The Swedish soprano has only sung it seven times at the Met, but she holds the record for most performances of the role in a season. If you’ve kept count, no soprano has done it more in one season as most have limited their runs to just five performances at most. A few managed six, but Stemme has seven. That she did it in under one month is even more outstanding. Goerke is scheduled for only six, so Stemme will retain the record for the time being.

One Timers

A number of singers only performed the role in one singer show at the Met. They include Göta Ljungberg (Feb. 3, 1933), Gladys Kuchta (March 7, 1968), Klara Barlow (Dec. 1, 1975), and Olivia Stapp (Dec. 8, 1984).