Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

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WORKS: Ariadne auf Naxos
PERFORMER: Gundula Janowitz, Teresa Zylis-Gara, James King, Sylvia Geszty, Theo Adam, Peter SchreierDresden State Opera Orchestra/Rudolf Kempe
The reissue of this 1968 EMI recording is a cause for loud cheering: for this is one of the best of all Strauss opera recordings, and one of the elect among opera recordings of any kind.


The work – an elaborate, richly wrought backstage comedy-drama with a disquisition on the nature of art at its centre – can seem one of the delights of the medium, or else a slightly arch, ponderous operatic conceit. The deciding factor is always the conductor; and here Rudolf Kempe, one of the century’s supreme Straussians, renders the piece whole, natural in balance (a tricky business given Strauss’s opulent scoring for chamber forces), fluently dramatic through all of its sections, and radiant of sound and substance in every bar. He has the inestimable bonus of the Dresden players, who are natives to this music, but the unfussed style of the performance – apparently so effortless, actually so hard to achieve – is the conductor’s hallmark.

He also has the benefit of one of the best-balanced Ariadne casts on record. One might argue that individual contributions have been equalled or even surpassed elsewhere; it is the apt matching and idiomatic rightness of the ensemble that one admires here.

Gundula Janowitz, an eloquently steady, refined, inward-turned opera seria heroine, lacks only the final degree of expansiveness in the highest-lying phrases; Teresa Zylis-Gara, a touch cool with some of the composer’s most memorable utterances, sings with parallel refinement of tone; Sylvia Geszty is the wittiest and most exuberantly colourful of Zerbinettas.


The antics of the commedia dell’arte quartet give unalloyed pleasure (by no means always the case); each of Strauss’s marvellous small parts registers its exact point and purpose. Only James King’s Bacchus, loud and callow, counts as a weak point. Max Loppert