Sophokles' Elektra is a heroine in the Homeric tradition, and she has truly gained the kleos aphthiton (KA.£0~ aq>Sttov), the "immortal fame," so beloved by Achilles. Different ages resonate this fame differently, but in opera it is as clear as ever. It leads to more understanding and appreciation of the Sophoklean original at the same time that it creates a new work of art. Modern performances of ancient tragedy involve us in a compli• cated system of what Aristotle calls 6fot~ and A.u

ideas to texts accompanied by music. 1 Expanded musical versions of Greek drama with its rich mythology constituted our first . We remember Nietzsche's famous study on tragedy as derived from music, Die Geburt der Tragodie aus dem Geiste der Musik. 2 It is our loss that we do not have the music that accompanied ancient drama so that we could know how abstract, programmatic, lyrical, or percussive the music actually was.3 Nevertheless, music accompanied drama, and opera reinstates the prominence of music. By altering verbal texts and adding musical commentary, modern opera gives us new insights into the ancient plays. We see the obvious analogy with ancient tragedy in the operas by Mozart since he divides his libretto between arias and : the action moves forward in the recitatives, and we learn from the characters in their arias how they feel about these developments. A verbal text set to music is by nature more abstract and more philosophical - indeed, more idealized - than a simple spoken utterance. As Nietzsche said, speaking of Schopen• hauer, "He conceded to music a character and an origin different from all the other arts, because, unlike them, it is not a copy of the phenomenon, but an immediate copy of the will itself, and therefore complements everything physical in the world, and every phenomenon by representing what is metaphysical, the thing in itself.'"' Again, it is further from our own everyday experience and we receive it differently. A musical setting simultaneously invites us into the character's own peculiar emotional range and universalizes these emotions. I maintain that these two dimensions - the profound response of the modem audience to the seemingly alien matter of ancient Greek tragedy, and the elevating and universalizing effect of music - make the experience of a modem opera based on Greek tragedy an extraordinarily demanding and rewarding one. I might run the risk of sounding like Wagner in his theoretical writings, i.e. pompous and prescriptive, but the Elektra by Richard Strauss and a few other masterpieces of that genre involve us in an almost religious ritual: we worship not some god, or even some philosophi-

1 "At the end of the sixteenth century a small group of aristocratic intelligentsia ... [had] the avowed intention ... to reproduce as far as possible the combination of words and music which together made up Greek theatre," Harewood (1987) 3. See also Sadie (1989) 15-16. 2 See Silk and Stem ( 1990). There is an interesting discussion of this work and its relation to opera in Lindenberger (1985). 3 For a summary of what we know about ancient Greek music, see Barker ( 1989); he quotes Plutarch and Aristophanes to show how the ancients viewed the difference between the three major playwrights of Greek tragedy: " is noted for his grave simplicity, ... for his elegant and full-bodied sweetness, and for his delicate fancy, dismissed as airy trifles by Aristophanes, but much admired in his own time and later," (1989) I. 62-3. Barker also speaks of the origin of tragedy, citing Aristotle: "The origins of the drama lie in the forms that were essentially choral song and dance," I. 62. This reflects Aristotle's view that tragedy was linked with the dithyramb in origin. See also Commoti (1989). • Nietzsche (1967) I 00.