Strauss, R Ariadne auf Naxos
Here’s another restoration from Austrian television archives that will bring a pang of nostalgia to those who enjoyed a golden era at the Salzburg Festival. Karl Böhm, authoritative conductor of Richard Strauss’s operas, leads a performance from 1965 which is suffused with an understanding, as regards, tempo, line and texture, of the composer’s intentions, faithfully executed by his beloved Vienna Philharmonic. Again and again you can hear, in small details, how carefully and astutely he has prepared his singers and players.
Reri Grist and Sena Jurinac are the stars, offering classic readings of their roles. Although by 1965 Jurinac wasn’t quite as youthful-looking or impetuous as she was at Glyndebourne 12 years earlier, much of the old eagerness remains and she is still vocally a paragon of a Composer. It is good to have her portrait preserved for posterity. She and Paul Schöffler, a wise and world-weary Music-Master, in his final Salzburg appearance, make an endearing partnership.
Grist’s pert yet sensitive and utterly captivating Zerbinetta is a classic exposition. She moves and sings with distinction throughout, most touching in her brief moment of love with the Composer in the Prologue, absolutely dazzling in her big scena; she is recalled for three bows. Hildegard Hillebrecht was an underrated artist at a time when German lyric-dramatic sopranos were more plentiful than now. She gives a completely thought-through and confidently sung reading of the title part, one or two strident high notes apart, and she phrases with true artistry. She sang the part on disc for Böhm a few years later when some of the lustre had gone from her tone. There, Jess Thomas’s handsome-voiced Bacchus was as welcome as it is here. Both act well within the conventions of the time and the staging.
Most of the smaller roles are admirably filled by German-speaking singers, with Gerhard Unger’s sparky Brighella, Gerd Feldhoff’s velvet voice Harlequin and Lisa Otto’s poised Echo outstanding. Erik Frey doesn’t make as much of the Major-Domo.
Günther Rennert’s staging, praised at the time, is hampered by the grainy black-and-white picture, and the camerawork is a bit dozy. His command of stage-movement is as alert as it always was, and he imposes a discipline on the commedia dell’arte figures that makes their antics have more point than usual, but it is for the musical interpretation that this issue is so worthwhile.