Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos
‘Museum opera’, the insult trendy producers commonly fling at any dramatically comprehensible staging, is oddly appropriate here, because this is basically a restaging of Glyndebourne’s legendary Carl Ebert/Oliver Messel production, first seen in 1950 (the Opera) and 1953 (the Prologue). With its richly sombre colours, elaborate period costumes and stately, unexaggerated action, it’s a glimpse into a vanished world, quite appropriate for Ariadne’s backward-looking pastiche. However, the performance is also rather rich and sombre, emphasising the Romantic against the Classical.
Much of this is due to Levine, who galumphs through the Prologue’s byplay and wallows in the Opera’s darker music. Tatiana Troyanos’s full mezzo lay low for the specifically soprano Composer, and she is hardly youthful or ardent enough. Franz Ferdinand Nentwig is a decent but low-voltage Music Master, especially against Nico Castel’s hammy Major-Domo.
Jessye Norman agonises powerfully as Ariadne, but her dark voice lacks the airy Straussian grace with which a Schwarzkopf or Janowitz transcends this. The 60-something James King, though inevitably drier than in Kempe’s 1968 recording, sounds far more spirited. The Comedians are undercharacterised, especially Harlequin.
Fortunately, the Nymphs sound like the rising stars they were, and Kathleen Battle galvanises the performance: a witty, glittering Zerbinetta, a touch calculated but securely radiant even at high E – and when preventing the Met audience applauding before her coda.
Not ideal, then; but still likeable, especially compared to its sole DVD rival, the dismal Dresden staging. DG’s 1978 Karl Bohm video would be stronger competition. But with the amusing documentary featuring Hermann Prey’s Music Master, and a healthy choice of surround soundtracks, this is well worth a look.