Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
Germany’s so-called Regietheater can sometimes be baffling in its earnestness, but generally it’s far preferable to this example of empty-headed staging by French director Philippe Arlaud. He is also the set and lighting designer, and admittedly some of his images for the mythological ‘serious opera’ about Ariadne’s Naxian union with Bacchus do look good. But somehow he manages to sabotage Strauss and his poet Hofmannsthal’s most delightful 40 minutes, the backstage Prologue in which the earnest Composer’s intention, to stage an opera on Ariadne and her abandonment on the island of Naxos, is sabotaged at a rich patron’s whim, insisting that it should be interspersed with a song-and-dance troupe. With the Prologue’s action directed straight at the audience, naturalism goes for little. In the opera proper – the second half – there’s no middle way between chronic overacting and a woeful lack of ideas.
Just listening to this is another matter. I hope Decca will issue this on CD (as happened after the initial DVD release of some of the same folk’s Baden-Baden Rosenkavalier), as the musical results are classy. Having bid farewell to the Composer – a now rather spread-voiced Sophie Koch, looking like Rolando Villazón on overdrive – we can take total pleasure in the opera’s delivery. Renée Fleming as Ariadne is at her most opalescent; Robert Dean Smith, no god to look at – which heroic tenor is? – matches her for vocal ardour. The three nymphs are first rate, and Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta, bar one missed top note, excels dramatically as well as pyrotechnically. Christian Thielemann, slightly over-loving at times, gets predictably top notch sounds from a much-reduced Staatskapelle Dresden. Roll on
the CDs, then.