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

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Ariadne auf Naxos</me> at Investec Opera Holland Park
18 Jul 2018

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.

Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Laura Zigmantaite as Dryad, Elizabeth Cragg as Naiad and Lucy Hall as Echo

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

This co-production between Investec Opera Holland Park and Scottish Opera adds further bifocal perspectives. Antony McDonald’s production was originally staged in spring, behind the scenes of the mansion belong to ‘the richest man in Glasgow’, and now the director and designer has brought the show from north to south, morphing the Scottish pile into South Kensington’s Holland Park House.

The rival operatic and vaudeville troupes are cooped up in tatty trailers either side of the lawn, the burlesque comedians, circus artists and MC taking the air on the top of their grass-bound motorhome, the diva and her tenor lounging in a curtained caravan.

Ali Wright-40 (1).jpg
Julia Sporsén (Composer), Jennifer France (Zerbinetta) [Photo credit: Ali Wright]

The Prologue antics are rather frantic as Stephen Gadd’s deliciously poker-faced Music Teacher receives and rebuffs the news - delivered in broad Glaswegian brogue by Eleanor Bron’s Party-Planner (aka the Major Domo) - that his protégé’s classical-themed opera will need to be synchronised with the burlesque troupe’s acrobatics if the money-man’s pyrotechnic coda is to be lit by 9pm. The colloquial quips of Helen Cooper’s English translation help Strauss’s conversational idiom to skip along, but the acoustics of Opera Holland Park’s dome defeated Bron, and sadly I for one struggled to make sense of her spoken text (for which there were no surtitles - a pity, in an unforgiving venue).

Seria and buffa elements were confrontational rather than cohesive - perhaps that’s how it should be - but Julia Sporsén’s Composer brought disparate parts into a cohesive whole, with her Schubertian-Straussian paean an die Musik. Sporsén’s soprano shone and thrilled and both her declaration that music is a holy art and her interactions with Zerbinetta were genuinely touching. Jennifer France’s Dietrich-like, dynamic Zerbinetta may have thought she was engaging in mild flirtation, but her heart was clearly hooked by the Composer’s soulful sincerity and artistic and romantic integrity. And, here McDonald has added another piquant twist, making the Composer a woman - given that Sporsén sported a blue suit and the only hint of femininity was dark underwear showing through her white polka-dot blouse, some in the audience may have been confused -thereby adding a touch of spice to the androgynous aromas of Strauss’s original travesti interactions.

The gender-switch also means that it is a woman who has penned the tale of Ariadne’s love, loyalty and loss, subtly shifting the sympathies of the perspective. When Mardi Byers appears at the start of Act 2 and lingers beside a grand dining-table, abandoned mid-meal - taking a glug of red wine from a half-filled glass, gazing forlornly at an un-cut tiered cake - it’s hard not to see a hint of Miss Haversham’s Satis House mausoleum, spacious and handsome but in which ‘every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces’, the most prominent object being ‘a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together’.

Vaudeville.jpgDaniel Norman (Scaramuccio), Jennifer France (Zerbinetta), Lancelot Nomura (Truffaldino) and Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Brighella). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Dickens jilted bride ‘laid the whole place waste, as you have seen it, and she has never since looked upon the light of day’, and so this Ariadne stares yearning at the coffin which she longs to make her final resting place, sooner rather than later. Only the dulcet urgings of the three nymphs keep her from the abyss. Elizabeth Cragg (Naiad), Laura Zigmantaite (Dryad) and Lucy Hall (Echo) resembled the Queen of the Night’s Three Ladies in their gorgeous frocks, with bat-like trains, of white-grey-black: veritable bridesmaids-in-decay.

McDonald doesn’t quite keep seria and buffa in balance, and the vaudeville troupe threaten to up-stage the classical in Act 2, especially when they take a rest from the show-casing their spectacular circus skills - not one spinning china-plate fell - and they grab the wedding-cake from the table and flick through a book of Greek myths. Circus skills director Joe Dieffenbacher has mentored his tutees expertly and Alex Otterburn (Harlequin), Daniel Norman (Scaramuccio), Lancelot Nomura (Truffaldino) and Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Brighella) form a compelling vocal and kinetic ensemble. And, to be honest, it’s a relief, after several recent productions, to have a vaudeville troupe who are more Berlin satire than barbershop saccharinity.

Kor-Jan Dusseljee as Bacchus and Mardi Byers as Ariadne.jpg Kor-Jan Dusseljee (Bacchus) and Mardi Byers (Ariadne). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

The arrival of Kor-Jan Dusseljee’s stentorian Bacchus - high notes sometimes a little overly ear-piercing but still remarkably true and firm - marked a shift in the dramatic dynamic from triviality to transcendence. Byers didn’t negotiate every phrase with Straussian suavity, but there were rich colours and honest emotions, and this Ariadne’s torment and troubles were palpably evident. In their final duet, she and Dusseljee effected the necessary translation and quickly the busy preliminaries to their romantic apotheosis were forgotten as they drew us into their unearthly paradise. It was at this moment too that conductor Brad Cohen, who had presided over an impressive account of Strauss’s sumptuous music up to this point, seemed to become totally absorbed, his arms swirling and sweeping all sumptuously into Strauss’s musical magic.

Zerbinetta Workman.jpg Jennifer France (Zerbinetta). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

But the real transcendence was to be found elsewhere. When Strauss began setting Hofmannsthal’s libretto he said that he envisaged Zerbinetta as the leading role, and he told his librettist that he would be writing the part for a high coloratura soprano - Ariadne was originally to be a contralto - advising Hofmannsthal to listen to Selma Kurz, the first Zerbinetta, singing arias from La sonnambula or Lucia di Lammermoor if he wanted to get a feel for the idiom. And, so it was that Jennifer France was the true Sirius in a stellar show, delivering her vocal acrobatics with astonishing athleticism, precision and expressive nuance, all the while performing a teasing strip-show. Languor and assertiveness were wonderfully melded in sensual sublimity. It was hard to tell who enjoyed it most: France or the mesmerised audience.

And, it was France who held our attention in the closing moments. With Ariadne and Bacchus united in divine devotion, one by one the other characters crept in to witness the denouement and take their bows. Sporsén’s Composer was the last, and her arrival drew Zerbinetta from her embrace with Harlequin: it was the women’s love that had the last word. A love celebrated by a fountain of fireworks - an hour late, at 10pm, but still a fitting accolade for Investec Holland Park’s vocally stunning Strauss debut.

Claire Seymour

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

The Prima Donna/Ariadne - Mardi Byers, The Tenor/Bacchus - Kor-Jan Dusseljee, Zerbinetta - Jennifer France, Harlequin - Alex Otterburn, Scaramuccio - Daniel Norman, Truffaldino - Lancelot Nomura, Brighella - Elgan Llŷr Thomas, The Party Planner - Eleanor Bron, The Professor of Composition - Stephen Gadd , The Composer - Julia Sporsén, The Producer - Jamie MacDougall, Naiad - Elizabeth Cragg, Dryad - Laura Zigmantaite, Echo - Lucy Hall , Wig Master - Thomas Humphreys, Butler - Trevor Bowes, Officer - Oliver Brignall; Director/Designer - Antony McDonald, Conductor - Brad Cohen, Lighting Designer - Wolfgang Göbbel, Choreographer - Lucy Burge, Circus Skills Director - Joe Dieffenbacher, Prologue Translation - Helen Cooper, City of London Sinfonia.

Investec Opera Holland Park, South Kensington, London; Tuesday 17 th July, 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):