Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Soile Isokoski and Sergey Skorokhodov [Photo by Alastair Muir courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival]
19 May 2013

Glyndebourne: Ariadne auf Naxos

Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.

Glyndebourne: Ariadne auf Naxos

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Soile Isokoski and Sergey Skorokhodov

Photos by Alastair Muir courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival

 

Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. His music is a clue. There are, of course, references to Mozart, but these are prettified and tarted up. Are Strauss and Hofmannsthal suggesting that the Composer courts success rather than art for arts sake? He is, after all, writing for “the richest man in Vienna”. The Music Master (Thomas Allen) clashes with the Major-domo (William Relton), but the firework display takes priority. Ariadne auf Naxos is an indictment of the system..

ariadne_auf_naxos212_0.gifKate Lindsey as the Composer

The Vorspiel and Opera are distinct, but only up to a point. Strauss pits art against artifice, disguising the true, radical meaning of his work behind a veneer of elegant stylization.These are mind games. As Zerbinetta tells the Composer, “Auf dem Theater spiele ich die Kokette, wer sagt, dass mein Herz dabei im Spiele ist? Ich scheine munter und bin doch traurig, gelte für gesellig und bin doch so einsam” (In the theatre I play the coquette. But who says my heart is in the game? I seem cheerful, but I’m sad. I play to the crowd, but I’m so alone”.)

Katharina Thoma’s staging is erudite. Years after the opera was written, firebombs would destroy many German theatres, symbolically wiping out the German opera tradition. Obviously this was nothing in comparison to the destruction wrought by politicians and their philistine followers, but to a man like Strauss, whose world revolved around Dresden and Munich, the bombings were a metaphor for mindless barbarism. “The holiest shrine in the world”, he wrote. “Zerstört!”. Ariadne auf Naxos was written during the First World War. Although Strauss could not foresee the future, as a modern audience, we cannot forget the more destructive war that came after. There are relevant connections between Ariadne auf Naxos and Metamorphosen, which is perhaps Strauss’s most explicit comment on the madness that is war. Until we stop giggling when someone opens his cloak to reveal RAF logos, we have learned nothing.

Strauss’s score gives us other clues. The stock characters reference standard commedia dell’arte where figures are hidden behind masks. Greek myth itself uses archetypes as metaphor. If Ariadne were a “real” person, she’d be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, given her obsessive delusions about Theseus and suicide. She and Bacchus both come from family backgrounds where women have sex with gods and monsters, so they have a lot in common. But what psychiatrist would countenance that? Soile Isokoski sang the glorious aria “Ein Schönes war” so beautifully that we could feel Ariadne’s tragedy as if it were personal and universal. “Und ging im Licht und freute sich des Lebens!” became a brave cry of protest against the hospital where “normal” people don’t understand her extreme personality. Yet like Zerbinetta, Ariadne will not be silenced. In the end, she (sort of) gets what she needs, escaping the mundane world in which she’s trapped into a kind of warped apotheosis of love, death and delusion.

Strauss had mixed feelings about Tristan und Isolde. His own take on the Liebestod is delicously delirious. The references to “drink” is particularly ironic, given that mental hospitals dispense chemical solutions just as Brangäne dispensed a potion that didn’t do what it was supposed to. Strauss writes the nurses’ last song so they have to warble like mad Rhinemaidens, totally uncomprehending what’s going on round them. Against his better instincts, Bacchus (Sergey Skorokhodov) cannot help but succumb. At the end, Thoma’s staging shows the hospital curtains billowing out like the sails of a ship, heading out at last for the freedom of the seas. The “sails” are lit by a red glow. Is this sunset or fire ? Is Valhalla burning ? Or does it suggest Dresden, Munich, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Hamburg or many other cities destroyed since?

Isokoski is one of the great Strauss singers of our time, so it was a pity that the production made more of Laura Claycomb’s one-dimensional Zerbinetta. The part is central to the work as Zerbinetta interacts with the Composer (Kate Lindsey) while the Prima Donna (Soile Isokoski) is too wrapped up in her “role” as mega-star. Ariadne is frigid. Zerbinetta goes to the opposite extreme. Given that Greek myth is full of bestiality and explicit sex, we really should not be alarmed that Zerbinetta, who doesn’t feature in antiquity, is a nympho. Compared with Ariadne’s mother, Zerbinetta is almost healthy. Claycomb is good at being strident and brassy, so if the subtlety in the role didn’t come over well, there was much else in the production to savour. When Claycomb throws off the restraints of the straitjacket, we thrill at the strength of her spirit. It’s a brilliant image, totally in keeping with the meaning of the opera on many levels.

Although the Vorspiel and the Opera are ostensibly separate they are integral to each other. The Composer sings in the first part because he/she’s written a score. But when the Opera actually takes place, the characters transform, as if they’ve taken on lives of their own. Hoffmansthal and Strauss don’t give the Composer anything to sing in the second part. The Composer storms out when he realizes that scores don’t exist in limbo but are changed by circumstances and performance. Hence the psychic creative storm as this bombshell drops. In Thoma’s production, the Composer is struck dumb with the horror that he/she is no longer “in control”. As a successful composer, Strauss knew full well that a score only becomes an opera when it is performed by musicians who think and feel. There is no such thing as “non-interpretation”. Now, Lindsey makes her presence felt through her acting, rather than by her singing, in a thoughtful reversal of roles. The Composer “is” part of the opera, silent or otherwise.

ariadne_auf_naxos144_0.gifThe commedia troupe

Strauss’s score is brilliantly anarchic, extending the idea of multiple levels of reality. The Mozart and commedia dell’arte references jostle with references to Wagner, popular dance tunes and woozy bursts of fantasy. Vladimir Jurowski has a wonderful feel for Strauss’s sense of humour. The brasses of the London Philharmonic Orchestra blare just enough so we can hear the parody, the winds (especially the bassoons) wail like a bunch of mock tubas. The strings reminded me of Strauss’ Metamorphosen. Humour is even more difficult to express in abstract music than more obvious emotions, because by its very nature, it’s quixotic, tilting at the windmills of rigid literalism.

Hence the vignettes, which Thoma stages so well. They break the intensity, injecting an irreverent sense of the absurd. The nymphs, Naiad, Dryad and Echo are mindless, not “carers” so much as nurses who follow rules without question. But how lovingly they are sung and acted by Ana Maria Labin, Adriana Di Paola, and Gabriela Istoc. The Four Comedians, Harlequin, Scaramuccio, Truffaldino and Brighella (Dmitri Vargin, James Kryshak, Torben Jürgens and Andrew Stenson) are even more impressively performed. When they dance, every movement matches perfectly with the music: even their toes are tuned just right. The figures may be “fools” but they’re done with panache and precision. They practically steal the show.

This Glyndebourne Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos has the makings of a classic, once audiences realize how genuinely true it is to the savage wit of Strauss and Hoffmansthal. Ariadne auf Naxos subverts delusion and false images. We need its irreverence more than ever.

Anne Ozorio


For more information, and details of the June 4th broadcast, please see the Glyndebourne Festival website.

Click here for a podcast relating to this production.

Cast and production information:

Prologue: Music Master: Thomas Allen, Major-domo: William Renton, Lackey: Frederick Long, Officer: Stuart Jackson, Composer: Kate Lindsey, Tenor: Sergey Skorokhodov, Wigmaker: Michael Wallace, Zerbinetta: Laura Claycomb, Prima Donna: Soile Isokoski, Dancing Master: Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Comedians: Dimitri Vargin, James Kryshak, Torben Jürgens, Andrew Stenson, Piano: Gary Matthewman. O[pera: Naiad: Ana Maria Labin, Dryad: Adriana Di Paola, Echo: Gabriela Istoc, Ariadne: Soile Isokoski, Zerbinetta: Layura Claycomb, Harlequin: Dimitri Vargin, Scaramuccio: James Kryshak, Truffaldino: Torben Jürgens, Brighella: Andrew Stenson, Bacchus: Serghey Skorokhodov. Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Director: Katharina Thoma, Set designer: Julia Müer, Costumes: Irina Bartels, Lighting: Olaf Winter, Movement: Lucy Burge. Glyndebourne Festival, 18th May 2013

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):