Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Ariadne auf Naxos
PERFORMER: Deborah Voigt, Anne Sofie von Otter, Natalie Dessay, Ben Heppner, Albert Dohmen, Stephan Genz, Christoph Genz; Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 471 323-2
Sinopoli’s ‘last opera recording’, DG opportunistically emblazons across the front of the box. It is a pity, then, that, although it has a lot going for it, it is not perhaps his finest, thanks both to his rather murky balancing of Strauss’s translucent score and his inability to rise to its emotional highs: it is rare to come away from the final scene unmoved. There is strong competition, anyway, in this work, from Karajan and Böhm in the Fifties to Levine and Masur in the Eighties, all featuring casts virtually matchless for their day.

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The best thing about Sinopoli’s recording is indeed his cast. Deborah Voigt’s Primadonna/Ariadne is a model of its kind if just a little husky in places; compare her to Jessye Norman for Masur (Philips) and she sounds more effortful, but it’s still a personable characterisation. Ben Heppner’s Tenor/Bacchus sounds unconstrained by comparison, and it’s wonderful to hear a thoroughly musical Heldentenor for once. As one would expect, Anne Sofie von Otter is a passionately involved Composer, her words as crisp and clear as her vocal line. The pick of the cast, though, is Natalie Dessay’s Zerbinetta, mellifluous, text-aware and with a believable character emerging through the voice alone; her commedia troupe is led by the ardent Harlekin of Stephan Genz.

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Gustav Kuhn’s recording was made live at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, that well-known hotbed of Teutonic art. There’s more detail to the orchestral sound, but that’s only because it’s recorded fiercely close. The casting is several notches below the competition, including a rather thin-voiced Ariadne, but at bargain price this would make a serviceable introduction to the work before moving on to the Masur. Matthew Rye