Opera Scotland

Ariadne auf Naxos Ariadne on Naxos

Music
Richard Strauss (born Munich, 11 June 1864; died Garmisch, 8 September 1949)

Text
Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Source
Original.

Premières
First version:
First performance: Stuttgart (Hoftheater), 25 October 1912.
First UK performance: London (His Majesty’s Theatre), 27 May 1913.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 21 August 1950.
Scottish Opera première: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 20 Aug 1997.

Revised version:
First performance: Vienna (Hofoper), 4 October 1916.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 27 May 1924.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 11 November 1969.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 12 November 1975

Background
The history of Ariadne is complex. The initial idea was for Max Reinhardt to direct an adaptation by Hofmannsthal of Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670). This is a satire about a wealthy social climber learning how to live as a rich man. The play ends with a banquet followed by a theatrical entertainment. The idea was for Strauss to compose incidental music for the play and to provide a short opera for the finale to be interspersed with a farcical play. The “short opera” about Bacchus finding Ariadne after her abandonment on Naxos by Theseus turned out to be a good bit longer (over an hour), and while the play was then heavily cut and adapted, performances have been rare, due mainly to the practical difficulties of mixing actors and singers. This original version has twice been presented at the Edinburgh Festival.

Main Characters
Major-domo (actor)
Music Master (baritone)
Composer (soprano)
Tenor, later Bacchus (tenor)
Dancing Master (tenor)
Zerbinetta (soprano)
Prima Donna, later Ariadne (soprano)
Harlequin (baritone)

Plot Summary
The revision, which is now the standard form, begins with a prologue, entirely Hofmannsthal’s work, which replaces the Molière play. Events are set in the house of a rich Viennese patron. The young composer of the opera appears with his teacher, the Music Master. The prima donna and tenor are very different in character from the roles they will perform later. There is also a troupe of comedy players, led by Harlequin and Zerbinetta (a fiendish role for coloratura soprano). The composer becomes infatuated with Zerbinetta and is then horrified to discover his opera is to be ruined by being interrupted by comic interludes. The original piece is performed after the interval.

RECORDINGS

EMI (3 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 1968

Conductor: Rudolf Kempe
Dresden Staatskapelle
Gundula Janowitz (Ariadne), Teresa Zylis-Gara (Composer), James King (Bacchus).

This is an excellent recording, notable for the stylish conducting of Rudolf Kempe, always a reliable Straussian, and he produces beautifully subtle playing from the orchestra. It is good to have the Composer sung by a true soprano, rather than a mezzo for a change, and Teresa Zylis-Gara, known more for her Mozart, gives a lovely performance. Gundula Janowitz produces a beautiful sound, though she doesn’t always use the words. The other roles are in safe hands with several singers at their vocal peak – James King (Bacchus), Hermann Prey (Harlequin), Theo Adam (Music Master) and Peter Schreier (Dancing Master). The Hungarian Sylvia Geszty makes a charming Zerbinetta.

DG (1 DVD) Sung in German Recorded 1988

Conductor: James Levine Director: Bodo Igesz Designer: Oliver Messel
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Jessye Norman (Ariadne), Tatiana Troyanos (Composer), James King (Bacchus).

This recording shows a solidly traditional performance in a solidly traditional staging of the opera. The major roles are sung by some of the best American singers of recent decades, led by Jessye Norman singing beautifully. The New York mezzo Tatiana Troyanos was a leading interpreter of the Composer throughout her career, going back to her years based in Hamburg (and she sang the role in Edinburgh in 1968 as a member of that company). James King also had a long career singing Bacchus almost from beginning to end. He was a little under-appreciated at the time, since he seemed to be thoroughly reliable vocally, and therefore perhaps a little dull. The rest of the cast shows the Met at its best, with Kathleen Battle as Zerbinetta and Franz Ferdinand Nentwig as the Music Master. It is good to see the young baritone Stephen Dickson as Harlequin. He had made a notable Edinburgh appearance in 1983 with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in Delius’s Fennimore and Gerda, but died very young. The whole performance is admirably conducted by James Levine.

PONTO (4 CDs) Prologue only Sung in English Recorded 1977

Conductor: Norman Del Mar
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Nan Christie (Zerbinetta), Janet Baker (Composer), Malcolm Donnelly (Music Master).

This recording in English of the Prologue comes as a welcome addition to the Scottish Opera performance of Der Rosenkavalier made in 1971. The central reason for the issue is the complete role of the Composer as performed by the great Janet Baker. This revival was staged in the opening season following the restoration of Glasgow Theatre Royal. In the prologue, the Prima Donna and Tenor, who later sing Ariadne and Bacchus, have little to do, but Helga Dernesch and Kenneth Woollam show plenty of character. Norman Del Mar was an expert on Strauss and conducts with style. Nan Christie and Malcolm Donnelly were regular members of the company, and their excellent performances are preserved along with John Robertson’s Dancing Master and Gordon Sandison’a Harlequin.

The Cast

Brighella
 a comedian
Composer
 
Dancing Master
 
Dryad
 a nymph
Echo
 a nymph
Harlequin
 a comedian
Lackey
 
Major-domo
 
Music Master
 
Naiad
 a nymph
Officer
 
Prima Donna
 Ariadne in the opera
Scaramuccio
 a comedian
Tenor
 Bacchus in the opera
Truffaldino
 a comedian
Wig-maker
 
Zerbinetta
 a comedian

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