ALBUM TITLE: Strauss
WORKS: Ariadne auf Naxos
PERFORMER: Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, Tatiana Troyanos, James King; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine; dir. Bodo Igesz (New York, 1988)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 028-9
The Prologue to Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, with its bickering prima donna and commedia artiste, could have been made for Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle, renowned as two of the opera world’s prickliest divas. But the fact that the sparks fly is all down to the acting, Norman adopting her haughtiest guise as the temperamental soprano as she looks down on the flummery of her rival Zerbinetta, played with typical flirtatiousness by Battle. Tatiana Troyanos, as the hapless composer caught in the middle, is just too matronly, for all the urgency of her singing. The staging is typical Met fare: in-period, grandiose, no costly detail spared. But the ultra-realistic approach does not always gel with what, in operatic terms, is a highly artificial dramatic concoction. The best productions make more of the transcendence of the Ariadne opera over its stately home setting. Here, though, everything is simply too literal and, along with Levine’s indulgent conducting, gives grand-opera pretensions to what is essentially a chamber work, something emphasised by the filming.
Although the singing might not be on such a high-powered level, Marco Arturo Marelli’s modern-dress Dresden production on Arthaus (reviewed August 2001) makes more absorbing viewing. The only extra on the DG release is an appallingly edited ‘behind-the-scenes’ rehearsal documentary. Matthew Rye