The Egyptian Helena

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Work data
Title: The Egyptian Helena
Max Frey: Original title unknown, possibly a scene from the opera in 1930

Max Frey : Original title unknown,
possibly a scene from the opera in 1930

Original language: German
Music: Richard Strauss
Libretto : Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Literary source: Helen of Euripides
Premiere: June 6, 1928
Place of premiere: Dresden State Opera
Playing time: approx. 2 ¼ hours
Place and time of the action: After the end of the Trojan War, on the island of Aithra and in a palm grove in front of the Atlas
  • Helena ( soprano )
  • Menelas ( tenor )
  • Hermione, the child of Helen and Menela ( soprano )
  • Aithra, the Egyptian war daughter and sorceress (soprano)
  • Altair ( baritone )
  • Da-Ud, the son of Altair (tenor)
  • Two servants of Aithra (soprano and mezzo-soprano )
  • Three elves (soprano and alto )
  • The omniscient clam (alto (pitch)

The Egyptian Helena is an opera in two acts by Richard Strauss . The libretto is by Hugo von Hofmannsthal based on Helena des Euripides . The premiere of the first version took place in Dresden in 1928 , that of the new version at the Salzburg Festival in 1933.


The sorceress Aithra is waiting for her lover, the sea god Poseidon. But he moved them. She is interested in following a passing ship on which a man is about to stab a woman. When the omniscient clam declares that it is Menelas and Helena on their way back from Troy, Aithra unleashes a storm, the ship capsizes, Menelas carries Helena ashore. Aithra's elven spirits lure Menelas away and make him believe that he has murdered Paris and Helena. He drinks Aithra's forgetting potion and is convinced that Helena in Troy was only a phantom and that she was his beloved wife during the war in Egypt. The two reconciled spouses are brought to the Atlas with Aithra's magic cloak. But there too, Helena's beauty causes confusion. Altair, the prince of the mountains, and his son fall for Helena. When Menelas kills the son while hunting, Menelas is captured by Altair. With Poseidon's help, Aithra frees them. But Helena now insists on living truthfully with her husband in the future. The arrival of their daughter Hermione facilitates the couple's final reconciliation. This somewhat frizzy, fairytale-like plot is about the question of whether you can lead a happy life in forgetting and lying.


Richard Strauss tried a German-Hellenic style here, partly lively, partly carried by glamorous highlights. But the unity that characterizes many other Strauss operas has failed. Strauss himself said that unfortunately his music did not cause any problems.



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