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 Reviews

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

06 Jul 2018

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

Ariadne auf Naxos at the Aix Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Zerbinetta on Ariadne's table with two of the three sprites [All photos by Pascal Victor / Artcompress © courtesy of the Aix Festival].

 

Among her Aix projects Mme. Mitchell staged George Benjamin’s Written on Skin with libretto by British playwright Martin Crimp. Mr. Crimp has subsequently served as dramaturg for Mme. Mitchell’s Aix Pelleas et Melisande and now for Ariadne, both productions brilliantly moving to meta-theatrical levels (metatheater is a Martin Crimp coined term). This simply means that it is theater as seen by theater — the original exists as well as how it is seen. Like metaphysics.

Of crucial contribution to the Aix Ariadne was the conducting of German born Marc Albrecht, now chief conductor of the Dutch National Opera. This maestro exploited the chamber music voice of the Strauss score in the expanses of the open air Théâtre de l’Archeveché, the grandness of Strauss’ orchestral introduction to the prologue monumentally minimized, but energized to accommodate the frantic transformation of the host’s (“the richest man in Vienna”) grand parlor into a makeshift theater space (a square of sand with a dinner table).

The maestro pulled out the intricacies of the myriad instrumental solos to create the usual intensity of backstage energy now augmented by the negotiations of merging commedia dell’arte with opera seria. Zerbinetta’s persuasive arguments to the opera seria’s composer seamlessly flowed into a passing moment of private musing by the composer, his fervent ode to music magically absorbed into the behind-the-scenes maelstrom.

Ariadne_Aix2.pngThe totality of the Katie Mitchell production

And finally Mo. Albrecht transformed Strauss’ bombastic Ariadne Bacchus duet into an intimate discussion between two lovers accompanied by the exquisitely sweet comments of Dryad, Naiad and Echo, Bacchus taking frequent gulps of water from a plastic water bottle.

As Strauss and Von Hofmannsthal intended it was chamber opera, though now with Mme. Mitchell’s superimposed household on top of it — remember that the original intention was that Strauss’ opera seria was but an ending for Moliere’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme (translated by Von Hofmannstahl). In fact Mme. Mitchell’s household’s cross-dressed host and hostess sometimes interrupted Strauss’s opera with sarcastic comments (spoken) before they too climbed onto the stage to participate in Ariadne’s plight* and Zerbinetta’s solutions.

*Ariadne was pregnant.

Strauss was a very reluctant partner in this second, purely operatic version of the Strauss Von Hafmannstahl play-cum-opera, fearing with grave and indeed quite pertinent concerns a lack of comprehensibility for such a far-out, obliquely sculpted narrative. Katie Mitchell brilliantly brokered this Von Hofmannstahl/Strauss dispute by pulling it all together into one totality. The play within a play, the location and circumstance of the play, the guests at the play, the actors in the play (the commedia dell’arte troupe became transfixed by Ariadne’s outpourings), the exposed backstage psychologies, the opera indeed coalesced into pure metaphysics.

Ariadne_Aix3.pngZerbinetta, the richest man in Vienna, Ariadne, three of the commedia troupe

The Aix Festival is famed for its casting sophistication, and this Ariadne is no exception. Young Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen let out immense, inhuman howls to welcome us to Ariadne’s solitude on Naxos. She added fine musicianship and vocal finesse in the use of her hugely powerful voice. French soubrette Sabine Devieilhe as Zerbinetta cooly seduced first the composer, and then she lectured Ariadne with splendrous soubrette tone in her lengthy, very lengthy “Großmächtige Prinzessin…So war es mit Pagliazzo.” The aria is punishing in its brilliant, stratospheric tessitura, flawlessly exuded in this Zerbinetta’s atypical soft charm and compassion that fit perfectly into the metaphysics of the production.

American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower as the composer physically conducted her opera though of course she sang not a word after the prologue, her presence in the opera seria adding the concept of creation and pride of creation to Mme. Mitchell’s inexhaustible philosophical complexities. She somehow seamlessly integrated her “Sein wir wieder gut” into the conceptual flow of the prologue, emanating gorgeous silvery tones in her radiant declaration of the powers of music.

Austrian bass baritone Josef Wagner as the Music Master was indeed authoritative in his deftly sung, deft management first of the spoken majordomo (actor Maik Solbach) and then of household’s two sets of performers. He was aided by the household’s very tall Dance Master, cross dressed and made taller by stiletto heels in the person of British tenor Rupert Charlesworth who for all his draggy, swishy flightiness was cooly supportive of the fraught performers in frank, masculine voice.

Like Zerbinetta the comedia dell’arte troupe (Harlequin, Brighella, Scaramuccia and Truffaldino) had costumes that lighted up (ah, what riches LED lights have brought to opera), in this case the exaggerated cumberbunds of their matching formal wear (black pants, white shirts) lighted up to make the flashiness of their comedic performances apparent, and in stark contrast to their weighty, maybe drab operatic counterparts.

Dryad, Naiad and Echo were physically matched to be sprites of nature, and vocally matched to be the sweetly voiced handmaidens of nature and its eternal renewal. Bacchus was sung by American heldon tenor Eric Cutter who served and re-served in stentorian voice (lubricated by gulps of water) the cake-like boxes of starry lights to Ariadne’s table throughout her death scene.

This Ariadne auf Naxos is an Aix Festival co-production with Barcelona, Paris, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Luxembourg. Be advised, it is a production worth crossing continents, even oceans to see.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Primadonna / Ariadne: Lise Davidsen; Der Tenor / Bacchus: Eric Cutler; Zerbinetta: Sabine Devieilhe; Der Komponist: Angela Brower; Harlekin: Huw Montague Rendall; Brighella: Jonathan Abernethy; Scaramuccio: Emilio Pons; Truffaldin: David Shipley; Najade: Beate Mordal; Dryade: Andrea Hill; Echo: Elena Galitskaya; Ein Musiklehrer: Josef Wagner; Ein Tanzmeister: Rupert Charlesworth; Ein Offizier: Petter Moen; Ein Perückenmacher: Jean-Gabriel Saint Martin; Der Haushofmeister: Maik Solbach; Ein Lakei: Sava Vemić; L'Homme le plus riche de Vienne: Paul Herwig; Sa Femme: Julia Wieninger. Orchestre de Paris. Conductor: Marc Albrecht; Mise en scène: Katie Mitchell; Dramaturge: Martin Crimp; Set Design: Chloe Lamford; Costumes: Sarah Blenkinsop; Lighting: James Farncombe; Responsable des mouvements: Joseph W. Alford. Théâtre de l”Archevêché, Aix-en-Provence, July 4, 2018.

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):