R Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Ariadne auf Naxos
PERFORMER: Deborah Voigt, Natalie Dessay, Susanne Mentzer, Richard Margison, Nathan Gunn, John Nuzzo, Eric Cutler, John Del Carlo, Joyce Guyer, Jossie Pérez, Alexandra Deshorties, Wolfgang Brendel, Waldemar Kmentt, James Courtney, Mark Schowalter; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/ James Levine; dir. Elijah Moshinsky (New York, 2003)
CATALOGUE NO: 5099964186795

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Conductor James Levine’s previous two casts, on Deutsche Grammophon CD and DVD, were going to be hard to equal, but by and large these singers of 2003 are no less worthy of his lustrous support.

The ardent Suzanne Mentzer’s Composer, taking time to warm to her outbursts, may not be a Composer to match Tatiana Troyanos or Agnes Baltsa, but we do have two prima donnas at the peaks of their careers having fun with the liveliest Elijah Moshinsky production I’ve seen.

There’s little subtext and the movement troupe adds clutter. Yet Brian Large’s cameras mostly know where to be, reducing the liabilities of performing this chamber opera in the Met, while Michael Yeargan’s designs are ingeniously colourful and the peerless Natalie Dessay sees to the finer nuances.

Is she the best Zerbinetta ever? Edita Gruberova once owned this role, but while Dessay’s slimmer coloratura is just as good with the pitches, she has the edge in living the role while Gruberova always gave A Performance. I like the way Dessay slips between complex human truth and the commedia dell’arte character, and the harlequinade is unusually lively, including surprisingly sexy encounters with Nathan Gunn’s strapping Harlequin.

Voigt before she could fit into the Royal Opera Ariadne’s infamous little black dress reveals a talent for Dickensian comedy, and although she and the opulent-voiced Richard Margison as Bacchus make large heroic characters she’s the right sort of statuesque Ariadne in the Jessye Norman tradition, if not the woman of flesh and blood we’ve become used to. 

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Subtitling is pallid and miking loses some of the voices downstage left, but otherwise I’ve no complaints: this is altogether a great version to win new lovers to this gorgeous work. David Nice