R Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos
Any opera company in the world would think themselves fortunate to assemble this cast for a production of Ariadne; indeed they might preen themselves a little on such luxury casting as Stephan Genz as Harlekin and on their shrewdness in knowing that Stephan’s brother Christoph is a highly accomplished tenor. In fact the subsidiary roles are all taken by singers of real quality: the trios of commedia dell’arte figures and nymphs are gracefully sung; Albert Dohmen and Michael Howard easily demonstrate how very ‘unsubsidiary’ the MusicMaster and the Dancing Master are.
Deborah Voigt is utterly dependable as Ariadne‚ the voice evenly produced throughout its range‚ the phrasing ample‚ the attack thrilling. Much the same can be said of Ben Heppner’s Bacchus‚ who shows not a sign of strain in those perilously high phrases. Natalie Dessay sings Zerbinetta with almost nonchalant ease‚ quite avoiding the shrillness and the unvaried fortissimo that are the besetting sins of singers in this role. Anne Sofie von Otter is an enchanting Composer‚ ardent‚ impetuous and lightvoiced enough to pass as the soprano that Strauss asked for in this part. All the cast are very precise over both words and note values in the passages of rapid dialogue (Strauss’s very first marking after the rise of the curtain is ‘in strict rhythm‚ but with the character of a secco recitative’). This is‚ in short‚ an Ariadne auf Naxos of accomplishment and distinction.
I would‚ however‚ not class it with the very greatest. In the titlerole I prefer a more lyric‚ expressive voice to Voigt’s heroic but impassive stainless steel reliability. For Bacchus to come alive he needs ardour as well as vocal glamour. No less important‚ though the richness and colour of Strauss’s score are important‚ and Sinopoli conveys them finely‚ it should also be obvious that there are only just over 30 players in the pit‚ and that isn’t always the case here.
Sinopoli‚ as was occasionally his habit‚ takes some tempos to extremes: the announcement of Bacchus’s arrival is very fast (it’s a tribute to the singers that they are hardly inconvenienced by this) and why‚ at each of Bacchus’s invocations to Circe‚ is the tempo quite abruptly and unjustifiably slackened? Karajan’s 1954 performance has long been regarded as the ‘classic’ recording‚ but apart from being in mono its latest reissue has a slightly tarnished sound; well worth putting up with‚ though‚ for Irmgard Seefried’s incomparable Composer and Rita Streich’s adorable Zerbinetta; Rudolf Schock is a more impassioned Bacchus than most and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf a slightly mannered (but grandmannered) Ariadne. Even she is excelled by the nobility of Gundula Janowitz‚ and in her performance with Rudolf Kempe only the rather stolid Bacchus of James King is disappointing; Kempe outdoes even Karajan in the firm but subtle delicacy of his handling of the score. In both these readings you are far more aware of a company of vivid characters on stage than in the highly efficient but uninvolving newcomer.