[Met Performance] CID:290020
Ariadne auf Naxos {43} Metropolitan Opera House: 09/23/1987.

(Debuts: Paul Frey, Gweneth Bean, Steven Cole
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
September 23, 1987


ARIADNE AUF NAXOS {43}
R. Strauss-Hofmannsthal

Ariadne.................Jessye Norman
Bacchus.................Paul Frey [Debut]
Zerbinetta..............Kathleen Battle
Composer................Tatiana Troyanos
Music Master............Hermann Prey
Harlekin................Stephen Dickson
Scaramuccio.............Allan Glassman
Truffaldin..............Artur Korn
Brighella...............Anthony Laciura
Najade..................Myra Merritt
Dryade..................Gweneth Bean [Debut]
Echo....................Dawn Upshaw
Major-domo..............Nico Castel
Officer.................Charles Anthony
Dancing Master..........Steven Cole [Debut]
Wigmaker................Russell Christopher
Lackey..................James Courtney
Owner of Mansion........Gary Drane

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Bodo Igesz
Set designer............Oliver Messel
Costume designer........Jane Greenwood

Revival gift of Mrs. Michael Falk

Ariadne auf Naxos received ten performances this season.

Review of Peter Wynne in The Bergen Record

The Metropolitan Opera's production of "Ariadne auf Naxos" is an oddity at a time when productions at major opera houses tend to be dominated by a single artistic vision - that of a Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, for example, who directs a production and designs, its sets and costumes or that of a stable team, such as director Otto Schenk and his longtime collaborator, scenic designer Guenther Schneider-Siemssen.

"Ariadne," by contrast, is a production by committee. Premiered in 1962, it started out with something like a unified concept, but it has been kicking around so long that few of its original elements remain intact.

-The production originally was directed by Carl Ebert, but now Bodo Igesz is credited with the staging.

-Oliver Messel designed both scenery and costumes, but the latter presumably were destroyed in a warehouse fire some years ago and have been replaced by costumes designed by Jane Greenwood.

-No one is credited with being lighting designer.

-Only one singer from the first cast is still associated with the production, although he's now in a different role - tenor Charles Anthony, who originally was heard as Brighella and now plays an officer.

And yet "Ariadne auf Naxos," which returned to the Met stage Wednesday night, remains one of the company's more pleasing productions, and puzzling out why this is so is interesting.

No small amount of the credit, of course, goes to the opera's creators, poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal and composer Richard Strauss, who originally conceived the work as a musical afterpiece for a production of Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme." This was to be the entertainment planned by Moliere's birdbrained, social-climbing hero, M. Jourdain.

The gist of the story is this: Jourdain or, in a later version of the opera, an unnamed Viennese nobleman has commissioned a number of entertainments for his guests: an opera seria called "Ariadne on Naxos," a commedia dell'arte presentation titled "The Tale of Fickle Zerbinetta and Her Lovers," and a fireworks display. The creators of the different entertainments are none too pleased to be on the same bill, and barely have they come to some sort of a standoff when the resident birdbrain declares that to save time he'll have the opera and comedy performed simultaneously. And they are.

In good part, the piece is a delightful parody of opera and its pretensions in the tradition of Mozart's "Der Schauspieldirektor" and Donizetti's "Le Inconvenienze Teatrali." It even recalls a backstage comedy of Moliere's, "L'Impromptu de Versailles."

But just as important, "Ariadne" leaves its cast of 15 principals lots of room for individual interpretation and stage business. And for some reason, at least at the Met, most of the soloists who perform in the German repertory seem to be singularly accomplished at physical business.

Kathleen Battle, for example, who sang the commedia siren, Zerbinetta, is as pert and light on her feet as a ballet dancer, and so were the comedians surrounding her -Stephen Dickson as Harlekin, Allen Glassman as Scaramuccio, Artur Korn as Truffaldin, and Anthony Laciura as Brighella. And few opera singers are as nimble as Steven Cole, who was making his debut as the Dancing Master.

And the "serious" roles, which require less physical agility, were generally filled last night with soloists known for their interpretive powers or wonderful voices, including Tatiana Troyanos as the beset composer, Hermann Prey as the more practical Music Master, and Jessye Norman as the haughty prima donna who later sings the even haughtier Ariadne.

Battle was an absolute delight, both physically and vocally. In fact, she sang Zerbinetta's notoriously difficult aria, "Grossmaechtige Prinzessin," with such ease and delicacy it hardly seemed the soprano-killer it can be. Norman was in superb voice, meaning immense and warm. Troyanos captured perfectly the youthful idealism of the composer, and Prey was simply regal in voice and presence. Paul Frey, making his Met debut, did a nice job as the tenor who afterwards sings Bacchus.



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