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Ariadne on a farm

The Alice Busch Theater
07/19/2014 -  and July 22, 28*, August 2, 8, 17, 21, 23, 2014
Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, opus 60
Christine Goerke (Prima Donna, Ariadne), Corey Bix (Tenor, Bacchus), Catherine Martin (Composer), Rachele Gilmore (Composer), Carlton Ford (Harlequin), John Kapusta (Dance Captain), Wynn Harmon (Manager of the Estate), Matthew Scollin (Farmhand), Adam Cioffari (Agent), Cooper Nolan (Officer), Thomas Richards (Wig Maker), Jenni Houser (Naiad), Beth Lytwynec (Dryad), Jennifer Echols (Echo), Gerard Michael D'Emilio (Truffaldino), Andrew Penning (Scaramuccio), Brian Ross Yeakley (Brighella)
The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra, Kathleen Kelly (conductor)
Francesca Zambello (Director), Troy Hourie (set designer), Erik Teague (costume designer), Mark McCullough (lighting designer), Eric Seam Fogel (choreographer)

C. Bix & C. Goerke (© Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival)

Upstate New York is replete with ancient classical place names - Ilion, Troy, Syracuse, Rome, Ithaca, Utica - so why not Naxos? A typically local barn - complete with hay bales, goats and a chicken - is the locus of what is billed as Ariadne in Naxos - and it works beautifully. It makes every bit as much sense as setting it in Vienna. A few roles are changed (the Lackey becomes a Farmhand, for example). The prologue plus the comedic parts of the second act are performed in English in an amusing translation by the festival’s fiendishly clever dramaturge, Kelly Rourke.

Every singing role in the work is performed by either an alumnus of the festival’s Young Artists Program (the four leads peforming the roles of Ariadne, Bacchus, Zerbinetta and the Composer) or current members (the other 12).

Dominating the production is the Prima Donna/Ariadne of Christine Goerke with a combination of self-satirical narcissism in the prologue and vocal grandeur in the opera proper. It would be quite a coup if they had found a Bacchus up to her amazing standard. The role is notoriously hard to cast as the man must sing for only the final 10 or 15 minutes of the work and must enter singing forte with no chance to prepare. Corey Bix gives it a game try - and at least looks god-like (the contretemps with the Wig Maker obviously resolved).

Most Zerbinettas are to a considerable degree a delight and Rachele Gilmore excels. In this staging the Composer is a young woman (Catherine Martin in properly ecstatic mode when not having a nervous crisis) who anxiously watches the Act II performance from the edge of the stage. By the end of the piece she is smitten by Zerbinetta, who returns the feeling. Throughout Act II we see not only the two simultaneous performances “on stage”, but also byplay between them and the Manager of the Estate (usually known as the Major-Domo) and other personnel. One might think this would overload the piece with busyness, but it’s all very amusing.

Notable among the YAP members are Jacqueline Echols as Echo (she will be Pamina next year at the festival) and Carlton Ford, a lively Harlequin, who is about to join Berlin’s Deutsche Oper.

Conductor Kathleen Kelly’s career has kept her pretty much backstage as a coach. Her appearance here in the pit is distinguished by very nice attention to detail.

Ariadne was last produced by Glimmerglass back in 1984 when the festival was still using the local high school auditorium. It certainly looks great on the Alice Busch stage.

Michael Johnson



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