Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

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):