Opera Scotland

Richard Strauss

Ariadne auf Naxos in Scotland

Posted 30 Mar 2018

Ariadne auf Naxos by composer Richard Strauss (pictured) received its first Scottish performance on 21 August 1950, at The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh.

Ariadne became the most famous event of that Festival because it consisted of a very rare production of the original 1912 version, and because it was conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, a great Strauss conductor who had led the London premiere in 1913. The production by Glyndebourne was directed by Carl Ebert in designs by Oliver Messel.

The singers in the operatic second half included Hilde Zadek (Ariadne), Peter Anders (Bacchus) and Ilse Hollweg (Zerbinetta). The play in the first half featured several actors who later became well-known – Miles Malleson, Dandy Nichols, Wensley Pithey and John Ebdon among them.

This original version has only been seen once since then, at the 1997 Festival, when Scottish Opera collaborated with Nottingham Playhouse. Richard Armstrong conducted Martin Duncan’s staging, in designs by Tim Hatley. The three leading singers were Anne Evans, John Horton Murray and Lisa Saffer.

The revised 1916 version of the opera including the sung prologue was seen at the King’s on 24 August 1954. Carl Ebert’s previous production was revised for this Edinburgh Festival and conducted by John Pritchard. Artists included Sena Jurinac (Composer), Geraint Evans (Music Master), David Franklin (Major-Domo), Lucine Amara (Ariadne), Richard Lewis (Bacchus) and Mattiwilda Dobbs (Zerbinetta). The Scottish tenor Murray Dickie, now living in Vienna, returned as both Dancing Master and Brighella.

Two further Edinburgh Festivals saw performances by visiting companies. In 1968, the Hamburg State Opera were conducted by Leopold Ludwig in a staging by Ulrich Wenk. Two leading Americans took major roles, Tatiana Troyanos (Composer) and Arlene Saunders (Ariadne). Bacchus was sung by Ernst Kozub with Sylvia Geszty as Zerbinetta. In 1982 the Dresden State Opera brought a production by Joachim Herz, conducted by Siegfried Kurz. Ariadne was sung by Ana Pusar with Rainer Goldberg and Klaus Konig alternating as Bacchus.

Sadler’s Wells Opera toured an excellent interpretation through the 1960s, but it only had a single performance in Scotland, at the King’s Theatre Glasgow in 1969. The production by Anthony Besch was designed by Peter Rice and conducted by John Matheson. The cast included Joyce Blackham (Composer), Margaret Kingsley (Ariadne) and renowned Scottish tenor William McAlpine as Bacchus. Stafford Dean made an early appearance as Truffaldino.

Scottish Opera’s first production opened at the newly restored Theatre Royal on 12 November 1975. The conductor, Norman Del Mar, was a Strauss authority and former student of Beecham. The staging by Anthony Besch and Peter Rice was very different from their earlier view, and given an interesting update to Edwardian times. The cast was led by Dame Janet Baker (Composer) and Linda Esther Gray (Ariadne), with Hugh Beresford (Bacchus), Norma Burrowes (Zerbinetta), Peter van der Bilt (Music Master) and Graham Clark (Brighella). The stage in the Prologue was dominated by the majestic figure of Iain Cuthbertson's Major-Domo.

The following season saw the staging tour to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stirling, Sunderland and the York Festival, with Anne Howells arriving as the Composer and Sandra Dugdale as Zerbinetta. The 1977 run back at the Theatre Royal had Janet Baker returning, to be joined by Helga Dernesch (Ariadne), Alberto Remedios and Kenneth Woollam (Bacchus), Nan Christie (Zerbinetta) and Malcolm Donnelly (Music Master).

The company’s second staging by Martin Duncan, after its 1997 Festival run, later appeared in the revised version in the main season. The three principals from earlier were joined by Diana Montague as the Composer.

The most recent performance, in 2003, saw English Touring Opera performing at the Perth Festival. Veteran director Colin Graham’s production was conducted by Richard Farnes, with Scottish mezzo Arlene Rolph (Composer), Carol Smith (Ariadne), Paul McNamara (Bacchus) and Richard Burkhard (Harlequin).

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