Strauss’s madcap Ariadne auf Naxos, in which lowbrow comedy dukes it out with highbrow pathos, gets a hilarious and heartbreaking update in this production from the 2013 Glyndebourne Festival. Katharina Thoma directs a powerhouse cast, including Soile Isokoski as Ariadne, Kate Lindsey as the Composer, Laura Claycomb as the scene-stealing Zerbinetta, and Sergey Skorokhodov as Bacchus, backed by the world-class London Philharmonic Orchestra under maestro Vladimir Jurowski.
Ariadne auf Naxos, premiered in its most widely performed second incarnation in 1916, is not your typical opera. Its first act, a prologue, sets the scene at the home of a wealthy Viennese man who has hired two musical troupes to perform: a deadly serious opera seria company and a slapstick commedia dell’arte group. Due to last-minute time constraints, the two ensembles are forced to perform their acts simultaneously—and predictably, the addition of a comedy act into the story of the spurned Ariadne, waiting to die alone on the isle of Naxos, leads to a truly singular second act, a canny melding of genres that plays on the audience’s conflicting expectations.
Katharina Thoma’s staging transposes the myth into a more modern setting: an English manor during World War II, far from Ancient Greece. Flames and rubble evoke the carefully reconstructed wartime scene, while the eminently talented cast brings astonishing vocal precision to this complex work. Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra are, as ever, second to none, bringing out every nuance and highlight in the score.
Photo: © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd: Photo Alastair Muir.
Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Gulbenkian Choir
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London Philharmonia Orchestra, Charles Mackerras