Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.



Amber Wagner as Ariadne and Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus
23 Jan 2012

A Noteworthy Ariadne auf Naxos, Chicago

Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos presents challenges in casting not only because of the vocal line and identity associated with individual characters but also because of its nature as a self-comment on the musical stage and the requisite dramatic skills thus needed.

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Amber Wagner as Ariadne and Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus

Photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago


Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds in meeting these challenges on both accounts in its recent revival. The title role was sung by Amber Wagner, the Composer in the Prologue by Alice Coote, Zerbinetta by Anna Christy, and the god Bacchus by Brandon Jovanovich. Other roles showing strong performances include Eike Wilm Schulte as the Music Master, Matthew Worth (debut) as Harlekin, and Nili Riemer (debut), Jamie Barton, and Kiri Deonarine (debut) singing the three nymphs Naiad, Dryad, and Echo respectively. Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a fluid and moving performance of Strauss’s score.

Ariadne_Chicago_2.gifAlice Coote as the Composer

During the instrumental prelude to the first part the audience is presented with preparations for a seventeenth-century production. Scaffolds, doorways to dressing rooms, props and primitive dramatic machinery clutter the stage in this self-reflective Prologue to the varieties of entertainment scheduled to follow. The performers of the evening run about their tasks until the first exchange of dialogue between the Music Master and the Major Domo of the palace. Eike Wilm Schulte’s fluency and projection of both spoken and sung German are exemplary as needed to steer a course of diplomacy between the Major Domo’s demands and the sensitivity of his pupil, the Composer. Schulte’s legato and attention to pitch in distended notes enhanced his desperation in trying to fulfill multiple roles. In the speaking role of the Major Domo David Holloway cut an appropriately pompous figure while relaying his maser’s whims in a bureaucratic monotone. When the Composer, visible in diligence at his desk from earlier in the Prologue, begins to react to news from the Music Master, Alice Coote’s voice blooms with passion and devotion to the musical art. Her wide range with a fluid transition from low to secure top notes was used skillfully to convey the Composer’s consternation and disbelief that his serious opera “Ariadne” was to be mixed with low comedy.

Ariadne_Chicago_11.pngAnna Christy as Zerbinetta with commedia dell’arte troupe

Phrases such as “Allmächtiger Gott” and “Nach meiner Oper ein lustiges Nachspiel!” [“Almighty God” “A humorous interlude after my opera!”] showed effective use of Coote’s dramatic sense of vocal transition. As the Prima Donna and Tenor for the opera plead the importance of their own roles, the Composer swirls in further controversy. Only after he learns that his opera must be performed simultaneously with the commedia, Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers, does attention focus primarily on the personalities of the Composer and Zerbinetta. Ms. Christy had portrayed a sprightly, playful figure until this point. Her own transformation into a counterpoint for the Composer is not only convincing dramatically, but it is also demonstrative of a vocally altered character. The Composer, in turn, declares that he would prefer to toss his precious score into the fire, detailed excitingly by Coote with ascending pitches on “Lieber ins Feuer.” During the ensuing duet both characters seem to lose their animosity, with the Composer’s interest clearly in acceleration. Although he continues to take himself seriously, Zerbinetta makes him see everything, as Coote declares urgently, “mit anderen Augen” [“with different eyes”]. During their interchange Davis provided excellent orchestral support with the woodwinds standing out especially in expressive lines parallel to those for the voice. Coote’s final aria, “Musik ist eine heilige Kunst,” [“music is a holy art”] was delivered as a heartfelt soliloquy with effectively held notes emphasizing the Composer’s sincere dedication to his art. When pulled out of this self-absorption by Zerbinetta’s whistle and calls to prepare her troupe, Coote ended the prologue with dramatic expressiveness on “frieren, verhungern, sterben” [“to freeze, to starve, to die”] as reactions to this unexpected forthcoming medley.

In the prelude to the opera proper Davis’s conducting brought out the rich, orchestral colors with horns balancing off the nicely integrated string playing. The three nymphs, who introduced the act with questions and repartee on Ariadne’s emotional and physical state, sang distinctly as a trio with vocal decorations blending fittingly. Ms. Wagner’s entrance began with solidly produced low notes followed by equally impressive and emotionally charged high pitches on “Mein Kopf ist leer” [“My mind is empty”]. Wagner’s dramatic approach to “Dies muß ich finden” [“I must find this”] prepared Ariadne’s personality for the aria “Es gibt ein Reich” [“There exists a kingdom”]. In this performance Ms. Wagner drew on her preceding vocal characterization and added moments such as a deep emphasis on “Totenreich” [“realm of death”] contrasting with an impressive high pitch on “Hermes, stiller Gott.” When she described being alone, “ganz allein,” with a touching piano, it further emphasized her brittle emotional state, since this followed on her dramatic rubato at “von meiner Höhle” [“from my cave”]. Her conclusion to the aria left an impression of her character’s yearning and incompleteness. Immediately after this piece Zerbinetta and her troupe dominate the stage but their attention is now focused on sympathy with Ariadne’s plight. Matthew Worth displayed an appropriate physicality as Harlekin while he sang an exquisite lyrical appeal to the inattentive Ariadne.

Ariadne_Chicago_9.pngScene from Ariadne auf Naxos

Of course one of the highlights of the operatic segment of Ariadne auf Naxos is Zerbinetta’s aria “Großmächtige Prinzessin,” in which the innermost feelings of the commedia performer answer the question, “Are we not both women?” Ms. Christy sang the challenging role with alternating glee and wistfulness: her voice is a comfortable fit for the many roulades and interpolated decorations. The effect taken on “treulos” [“faithless”] and trills executed just before “Als ein Gott kam jeder gegangen” [“Every man approached me like a god”] were a tasteful and knowing cap on this splendid performance of the aria.

Once the nymphs announce the arrival of Bacchus [“Ein schönes Wunder (“A beautiful miracle”)], his cries of “Circe” from the distance match their excitement. From the start of his role Mr. Jovanovich was always on pitch with notes produced forte when dramatically needed and piano when expressing his appeals to Ariadne. His cries of “Circe” intensified without a hint of strain just as he sang diminuendo on “Zauberin” [“magical being”] when voicing his attraction. The final extended duet celebrating the love between Ariadne and Bacchus as performed by Wagner and Jovanovich was sufficiently moving to count as the “schönes Wunder” that the nymphs had anticipated.

Salvatore Calomino

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):