Odyssey Opera Presents Boston Premiere Of THE EGYPTIAN HELEN
One of the nation's most adventurous opera companies, Odyssey Opera, presents the Boston premiere of Richard Strauss's little-known opera Die ägyptische Helena (The Egyptian Helen) with libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. As part of Odyssey Opera's sixth season, this marks the second of three works to be performed in 2019 inspired by one of the most enigmatic figures in ancient history, Helen of Troy. The challenging title role of Helen will be played by soprano Kirsten Chambers (Met Opera). With orchestra and chorus conducted by Gil Rose, this two-act concert performance will be sung in German with English subtitles.
"Die Ägyptische Helena is yet another work that unjustly disappeared from the operatic canon. Hofmannsthal's libretto is fantastic in the truest sense of the word - the reunion of Helen and Menelas playing out on a mystical island complete with a sorceress, elves and an omniscient sea shell." says Gil Rose, Odyssey Opera's Artistic and General Director. "It is a tale of desire and jealousy that inspired one of Strauss's most masterful and colorful scores, and a concert performance is really the perfect venue with its inherent focus on vocal and instrumental artistry."
It is the fifth Strauss-Hofmannsthal collaboration, nearly the only one that has not become a repertory standard. Given Strauss's standing in the musical world the 1928 premiere in Dresden could not help but be a success. After that first run, the positive reception diminished. In 1933 Strauss revised the second act. In 1940 director Rudolf Hartmann divided the first act into two scenes. None of these revisions resuscitated the opera, which is seldom performed today. Odyssey Opera's version performed is the original 1928 edition.
According to Opera News, "Hofmannsthal considered Helena his finest libretto. We must not underestimate Hofmannsthal's poetic prowess. As Strauss was master of orchestration, Hofmannsthal was of rhythm and rhyme."
Set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, this reimagination of the Helen myth is based on the premise that the Helen who came to Troy was a phantom, while the real, faithful one was spirited away. After the war, she is reunited with her husband, Menelas, sung by Clay Hilley. Katrina Galka is Aithra, the sorceress who helps Helen regain Menelas's love, and Joyce Castle as the Omniscient Sea Shell.
Helen of Troy, a woman so beautiful that she impelled nations into a war, has fascinated writers, painters, and composers for centuries. She has gone down in art and literature as the nonpareil of beauty, and this libretto touts her as the world's foremost belle. "The casting of Helen is of sovereign importance," explains Rose. "This Helen role offers a great opportunity for a soprano with sumptuous vocalism and dramatic presence." The lead role of Helen of Troy will be played by soprano Kirsten Chambers whose performances have been described as "delicious with beautiful legato and radiant high notes (Opera Magazine)." She made her Metropolitan Opera house debut on short notice in 2016 in the title role of Salome and subsequently joined the roster for the 2016-17 season. Boston audiences will remember her vivid portrayal of the Infanta in Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg with Odysssey Opera in 2017.
Described by The New York Times as "bold...intriguing", Odyssey Opera's 2018-19 season is a two-part journey. The first memorialized the 200th anniversary of Charles Gounod's birth (as well as the 125th death anniversary) with La reine de saba (September 22, 2018) and Le médecin malgré lui (November 9 + 11, 2018). The second in Winter/Spring 2019 is inspired by the iconic figure, Helen of Troy: a fully staged production of Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen) by Christoph Willibald Gluck (February 15 + 17, 2019); a concert performance of Die ägyptische Helena (The Egyptian Helen) by Richard Strauss (April 19, 2019); and a season-ending, fully staged production of the hilarious La belle Hélène (The Beautiful Helen) by Jacques Offenbach (June 14 + 16, 2019).
About Odyssey Opera
Founded in 2013 by artistic director/conductor Gil Rose, Odyssey Opera presents adventurous and eclectic works that affirm opera as a powerful expression of the human experience. Its world-class artists perform the operatic repertoire from its historic beginnings through lesser-known masterpieces to contemporary new works and commissions in varied formats and venues. Odyssey Opera sets standards of high musical and theatrical excellence and innovative programming to advance the operatic genre beyond the familiar and into undiscovered territory. Odyssey Opera takes its audience on a journey to places they've never been before. odysseyopera.or