Archive for the ‘Richard Strauss’ Category

Ariadne auf Naxos

May 8, 2011

We Torontonians are truly blessed with the luxury of always having good singers. Not only good but world-class artists well-chosen for the roles. The performance of Ariadne auf Naxos given on May 3, 2011 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing  Arts by the Canadian Opera Company was a fireworks of singing. Three names are outstanding in the performance. Adriane Pieczonka as Ariadne fills the hall with a powerful and crisp pitch. A true Wagnerian soprano. Ms. Alice Coote, a renown British mezzo-soprano, developed the character of Composer with sincerity and an attention to detail which was well received by the captivated audience. In the role of Zerbinetta was Ms. Jane Archibald, another Toronto artist, a coloratura-soprano with a venerable technique confidently under her belt. I can only join the acclaim by which these artists are praised in the reviews already released and applaud again all of them.

Lauren Segal as Dryad, Richard Margison as Tenor/Bacchus, Alice Coote as The Composer and Teiya Kasahara as Echo

When Wagner was 50, Richard Strauss was born. It was a year after Tristan and Isolde premiered. The influence of Wagner is palpable. The plot line of this opera is somewhat unusual. It ambitiously combines commedia dell’arte characters of a theatre group and opera seria in the second act by telling the story of abandoned Ariadne drowning her sorrows on the desert island of Naxos after being dumped by Theseus, with whom she is desperately in love.

The coming into existence of this opera and its final shaping up as we know it is a curiosity in itself. It started with the intention to create a satire as a gift to Max Reinhardt, the stage director, who helped Strauss a great deal with the première of the Rosenkavalier. The ambitious idea was to stage a comedy of Molierè’s  Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Because this concept imposed a considerable length and full dramatic troupe involvement, it was substantially revised, and the proposition for Molierè’s piece was chalked out. The characters of commedia dell’arte  had to find the voice and business dominated in the second act by Ariadne wallowing in her despair, with their wit and an innate sense for  letting go and meeting the next day with joy and an open heart.

The intention to create satire had to be meditated upon, to arrive at some creative results.  The imitation of reality is not enough any more in the staging of an opera. It is in the second act that I found the scales of balance and harmony bending towards frivolous expressiveness, not quite directed to establish communication with Ariadne, but rather aimed at amusing the audience and poking at it.

The set for the second act presents Ariadne clothed in a simple garment, and  surroundings of musty, dreary neglect, which was stripped of any contextual clues and left the spectators alone to find a corresponding reference in their own life experiences, or to stick to reading the libretto.

The major objection I have is the unfinished work of the stage and set director, who chose not to dig deeper into this unusual plot and try to sense the corresponding vibrations in life. It felt as if we were watching an opera seria with a prelude of some backstage commotion. I feel that there is a uniting thread to be discovered and that it allows for plenty of directorial liberty.

Although Ariadne’s sorrows are shared by many it is hard to see oneself in her. She is stripped of any features that individualize this character of myth and legend.

I would recommend the director and stage personnel of this production see the Stuttgart Ring to get some inspiration as to a possible reading of a libretto arising from myth and legend. I have not had an opportunity to see any other stage production of Ariadne auf Naxos, but I am sure that this piece will be recognized as gracious material for the exploration of director creativity in a similar way we see effervescent activity worldwide around Wagner’s Ring.