…Ariadne auf Naxos… (ROH, 10 July 2014)

High art and commercialism, integrity and compromise, one’s vision and one’s livelihood, ideal and reality, heroic death and a life of banality, tragedy and comedy, intense emotion and superficiality… it’s amazing to me that Strauss and Hofmannstahl pulled off balancing these contrasts in one short work.

  • Ariadne/The Prima Donna: Karita Mattila
  • Bacchus/The Tenor: Roberto Saccà
  • Zerbinetta: Jane Archibald
  • The Composer: Ruxandra Donose 
  • Harlequin: Markus Werba
  • A Music Master: Thomas Allen
  • Dancing Master: Ed Lyon
  • Wig Maker: Ashley Riches
  • Lackey: Jihoon Kim
  • Scaramuccio: Wynne Evans
  • Brighella: Paul Schweinester
  • Truffaldino: Jeremy White
  • Officer: David Butt Philip
  • Naiad: Sofia Fomina
  • Dryad: Karen Cargill
  • Echo: Kiandra Howarth
  • Major Domo: Christoph Quest

Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH

Director: Christoph Loy => I’m in agreement with his vision. Well done, Loy.

Contrast – can’t have too much contrast here. The vaudeville crew was dressed and behaved like “dudes” and looked more or less in dire need of a bath. Seeing them try to cheer the very posh and noble spirited Ariadne in the opera proper was extremely amusing.

Prologue – I loved how the Prologue started in the unnamed rich man’s house only to quickly split in two levels and have our musicians take the sumptuous lift to the undignified basement. All this whilst guests were still arriving above. High art, low art: money doesn’t see any difference.

The dark, tight quarters gave a sense of claustrophobia both from being cramped in the basement of a manor and from two differing view points being stuck together.

There were many funny moments woven in but my favourite was when the Prima Donna made a regal beeline to the lift in order to sort things out with “the boss”. Only for the Major Domo to refuse manning the lift for her; in the face of ridicule she had to – just as regally – step out and return to her dressing room.

The singing: I was very impressed with Matilla’s timing on top of her singing. Hers was one of the best acted Prima Donna/Ariadnes I’ve seen so far. She managed to be very credible as both a rather silly aging singer and as a high minded heroine. That’s some feat. It was my first (live) encounter with her and I unexpectedly loved her. I figured she could do a good job as Ariadne but she’s also got this impishness about her that came out the left field. I remember seeing Maria Bengtsson as The Countess in last year’s Figaro and coming off with a strange feeling of a cold, self regarding person in spite of admiring her singing. With Matilla I had a feeling of good humour. Who knows where these emotions come from? I don’t get them from every singer and when I do I am always a bit thrown.

I don’t know that I felt quite as ecstatic about her voice but you know I need some warming up to dramatic sopranos. She projected over the orchestra without any issues, that’s for sure, and it was quality singing all right.

Ruxandra Donose as The Composer also made a positive impression on me. I’ve seen her in Glyndebourne’s Cenerentola where I thought she was just ok. Now of course that’s hardly a favourite opera for me… Here I enjoyed the way she handled the music, although small of voice and not particularly memorable of timbre. Her Composer came through less jarringly neurotic than usual. I still remember Kate Lindsey’s all over the shop Composer from last year’s Glyndebourne production, who was charming but a bit much. Donose’s was a breath of fresh air although I liked Lindsey’s tone better. I love The Composer, I (or my younger self) feel a lot kinship with him.

The bit where the Major Domo announces the last minute change in the program and the Composer goes (to dark and dramatic accompaniment) “I always had a feeling something like this would happen” and then the vaudevillians get all jokey about the situation (to appropriately light-hearted music) is one of the funniest in (the) opera. Pappano managed the contrast beautifully and there were many laughs from the audience.

Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta was all right but I liked Laura Claycomb’s from the Glyndebourne production a lot better. Mostly I felt Archibald was rather cautious and needed better projection. Otherwise no complaints. Like I said in the previous post she wasn’t given much purpose during Großmächtige Prinzessin. Ariadne was standing to the side whilst Zerbinetta was mellowly singing away. Both last year’s rather racy choreography during the aria and Guth’s driving home the connection between the two characters made me want something there. When with her vaudevillians, Archibald was a trooper and Zerbinetta came off party hardy. The moment she seduces the Composer was also all right but again better choreographed (and well acted) last year. In conclusion, this Zerbinetta is just flighty and I would have liked her obvious self awareness brought out better.

The three nymphs were no-nonsense office workers/flight attendants here, mostly picking up after the despondent Ariadne. I think Strauss shoe-horned them in as an excuse for another female trio – which is lovely and they did it beautifully.

Roberto Saccà’s Bacchus was properly confused. It’s kind of interesting how he comes on not knowing where he is or what’s going on only to take charge after he feeds on Ariadne’s love. But is it love? Is it desperation? Is it something else altogether? Ariadne gets rather fed up with his vacillation at bringing her to his realm. It felt more like he was the only man around who “spoke her language” and she went for him in order to get whatever it was she needed (death? absolution? another form of transformation?). It’s a strange moment, as I think it’s supposed to represent the kind of love that operates beyond words… in which case it’s impossible to know just what this strong pull between them is. Maybe it’s just drunkenness, as suggested in the Guth production. Anyway, I’m never particularly impressed with tenors in Strauss and I wasn’t this time either, although I did pay more attention than usual.

It was a very light-hearted take on Ariadne but with interesting details that hinted at its possible depths. The moments when an uncomfortable-looking Ariadne, on the far left of the stage, was sat at a small, simple table set for two whilst the vaudevillians were being rowdy in her vicinity felt very poignant. When Bacchus appeared, a large, sumptuous dinner table (set for two) took centre stage. I’m still left with a head full of exciting but alas, uncrystallised, thoughts…


About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on July 12, 2014, in live performances, richard strauss, those two austrians and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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