Strauss Ariadne on Naxos

The Met’s take on Strauss’s domestic buffa is no shrinking violet

Author: 
Richard Fairman

Strauss Ariadne on Naxos

The Major-Domo tells us that Ariadne auf Naxos is set in the home of the “richest man in Vienna”. In this production by Elijah Moshinsky he must be a veritable Croesus. The Prologue takes place in a positively palatial backstage area, dominated by a stairway leading from the aristocrat’s marble hallway down to the actors’ changing rooms – a sort of theatrical Upstairs, Downstairs. The usual cast of singers and dancers is augmented by extras, who fill the stage with action. Brian Large’s cameras hardly know where to look and the filming flits irritatingly from one close-up to another.

This is a typically lavish and picturesque evening at the Metropolitan Opera. Once into the opera proper, the production calms down and it is easier to enjoy the handsome sets with their star-encrusted backdrops steeped in colour. Moshinsky allows himself a few novelties here – Naiad, Dryad and Echo appear as giant sirens up to 15 feet tall – but for the most part
this remains a conventional realisation of the drama, distinguished by the grandiose romanticism of its sizeable
stage pictures.

The singing comes on a big scale, too. Deborah Voigt is heard in one of her signature roles before the controversy over Ariadne’s “little black dress” at Covent Garden and her subsequent weight-loss. Her singing is full, weighty and rises to the climactic heights of the final duet. Richard Margison’s unsubtle Bacchus matches Voigt in stentorian power and Susanne Mentzer makes a wholehearted Composer, though some vocal strain at the top reminds us that sopranos find the role easier. The most engaging portrayal comes from Natalie Dessay’s Zerbinetta. As well as hitting all the notes, albeit with some vinegary tone, Dessay gives the character three dimensions, adding extra depth with her wide-eyed vulnerability. It is good to see Waldemar Kmentt again as a very supercilious Major-Domo and the supporting cast is effective.

James Levine takes his time in the pit – but how many opera orchestras play this score with such high-quality indulgence? Other DVD options offer the opera performed with more classical grace. But if a large-scale Ariadne is what you seek, this should fit the bill well enough.

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