Following up on his critical success with Richard Strauss' Die Liebe der Danae, Leon Botstein delivers a compelling interpretation of one of Strauss' lesser-known operas, Die Ägyptische Hélèna.
Though it was not his original intent, Strauss composed a triptych of marriage operas, beginning with Die Frau ohne Schatten, continuing with Intermezzo, and finishing with Die Ägyptische Hélèna. Intermezzo was an autobiographical sex comedy with a text by Strauss himself, while the libretti of the other two were written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Although the tone of each opera was different (fairy tale, comedy, mythology), each still shared a preoccupation with the complexities of marriage itself.
Die Ägyptische Hélèna is a mythological operetta based on the story of Helen of Troy and was Hofmannsthal and Strauss' first and only bel canto work—Helen is one of Strauss' greatest soprano roles. Even though the first act of Die Ägyptische Hélèna has marvelous satirical touches like a singing omniscient shell and mischievous elves, its score is no less complex and demanding than the one to Die Frau ohne Schatten. By the second act, satire takes a back seat to more serious matters, when Hofmannsthal brings into sharper focus themes so central to his other libretti: memory, marital fidelity, and the restoration of trust.
Like Ariadne, Helen gives herself to death, risking her life by offering her husband, Menelaus, the potion of remembrance (allowing him to recall her infidelity). With this act of courage she is transformed and, in turn, transforms her husband, for the jealous Menelaus is finally able to resolve the good and bad in Helen (and himself) and, reborn, he accepts her.
Die Ägyptische Hélèna is "very high and in places very dramatic," says soprano Deborah Voigt, who portrays Helen in Telarc's Botstein/ASO recording. "It's a gratifying experience for the singers and for the audience." Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra's new recording of Die Ägyptische Hélèna on Telarc captures the opera in its original version without cuts. This recording represents the opera that Strauss and Hofmannsthal first envisioned.
Leon Botstein is Music Director and Principal Conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, which performs its main subscription season at Avery Fisher Hall as part of Lincoln Center Presents Great Performers. He also leads the orchestra in the very popular series Classics Declassified (educational concerts for adult listeners), as well as a concert series at the new Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. Botstein's recent Telarc recordings include Glière's Symphony No. 3 Il'ya Murometz, with the London Symphony Orchestra; Max Reger's Böcklin Tone Poems and Romantic Suite; and his 2001 live recording with the ASO of Richard Strauss' opera Die Liebe der Danae.