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Ariadne auf Vegas

Teatro alla Scala
04/23/2019 -  & April 26, 28, 30, May 2, 5, June 19*, 22, 2019
Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, opus 60
Alexander Pereira (Der Haushofmeister), Markus Werba (Ein Musiklehrer), Daniela Sindram (Der Komponist), Michael König (Der Tenor/Bacchus), Riccardo Della Sciucca (Ein Offizier), Joshua Whitener (Ein Tanzmeister), Ramiro Maturana (Ein Perückenmacher), Hwan An (Ein Lakai), Sabine Devieilhe/Daniela Fally* (Zerbinetta), Krassimira Stoyanova/Tamara Wilson* (Primadonna/Ariadne), Thomas Tatzl/Gabriel Bermúdez* (Harlekin), Kresimir Spicer (Scaramuccio), Tobias Kehrer (Truffaldin), Pavel Kolgatin (Brighella), Enkeleda Kamani (Najade), Anna-Doris Capitelli (Dryade), Regula Mühlemann (Echo)
Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor)
Frederic Wake-Walker (stage director), Jamie Vartan (sets and costumes), Marco Filibeck (lighting), Sylwester Luczak & Ula Milanowska (videography)

(© Brescia/Amisano - Teatro alla Scala)

With the possible exception of Mozart and da Ponte, the collaboration of composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal is probably the greatest ever in opera. Both achieved that improbable ideal preached by Gluck’s operatic reforms, where music and lyrics achieve a perfect marriage, with neither dominating the other. For music lovers who bother following the libretto of an opera, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s lyrics are as glorious as Richard Strauss’s music, be it in Elektra’s “Allein, weh ganz allein,” the Marschallin’s “Heut’ oder Morgen,” Arabella’s “Das war sehr gut, Mandryka” or Ariadne’s “Es gibt ein Reich.”

Ariadne auf Naxos, completed and first performed in 1916, is a paragon of intellectual refinement, possible only in the effete cultured world of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s early twentieth century Vienna. Stage director Frederic Wake-Walker’s vision is unfortunately the antithesis of von Hofmannsthal’s refinement. Yes, the libretto mocks the nouveaux riches and the stuffiness of an overly hierarchical society epitomized by the Haushofmeister, but the essence of the work is the ambiguity of human emotions. Ariadne mistakes the God of wine Bacchus for Death that she longs for after being abandoned on the island of Naxos by the fickle Theseus. She mistakes rapture through carnal love with Bacchus for Death. Isn’t this the cruellest and the most sublime of jokes that Providence can play? Think of a love experienced by two persons: one person perceives it as the greatest passion ever, while the other thinks it a forgettable adventure. From Donna Elvira and Don Giovanni to Naraboth and Salome, this is the eternal joke of reality versus perception. This perspective is perhaps the ideal outlook into Ariadne auf Naxos. Alas, Wake-Walker seems to ignore the delicate refinement of von Hofmannsthal’s text and finds amusement in blending the sublime with the vulgar. An opera that is about Art and Artifice is reduced to Pop Art.

The sets of the Prologue disappointed, to say the least, by the juxtaposition of Zerbinetta’s troupe dressed in 1970s Las Vegas costumes and using a trailer for a dressing room with the baroque luxury of the home of the richest man in Vienna. In the age of Trump, the wealth displayed “im Hause des reichsten Mannes in Wien” (“in the house of the richest man in Vienna”) must be fake news or hyperbole, for such chaos and pandemonium is hard to imagine in such a home, be it in the eighteenth century or in the present. This is further confirmed by the absence of sets in the “opera” part of the work. Psychedelic video projections were meant to compensate for the paucity of sets, but in this, they failed miserably. At best, they distracted from the intensity of the final duet. At worst, they were headache-inducing.

Daniela Fally’s Zerbinetta was competent but competence is not what one expects in this role. A signature role for prominent coloraturas, Zerbinetta must dazzle not just for the pleasure of voice lovers but in order to convey the effervescent nature of the soubrette and to shine through as an antidote to Ariadne’s gloom and despair. Though a native German speaker, the Austrian coloratura did not sufficiently pepper the words of wisdom Zerbinetta offers Ariadne in the bravura aria “Grossmächtigen Prinzessin.” Much less competent were Zerbinetta’s four admirers, who sounded seriously under-rehearsed. Some had diction problems, while others had vocal problems. It did not help that the commedia dell’arte troupe were dressed as the Four Tops. In contrast, Ariadne’s three nymphs were first rate. Their classical nymph dresses worn in the Prologue were abandoned for droll dresses, like The Supremes.

Daniela Sindram portrayed an appropriately fragile and sensitive Composer. Vocally, she was singing sharp in the early part of her role, but sounded fine afterwards. She didn’t exactly convince as a young man in this “trouser” role, be it in her movements or mannerisms. At the end of the Prologue, the Composer stabs himself (not in the libretto) but it turns out to be “just theatre.” Perhaps Walker-Wake had an idea there!

Tamara Wilson as Ariadne was majestic. Her dramatic soprano voice was ideal for the role, especially in that it is quite lyrical despite its huge size. Her presence and to a lesser extent Michael König’s were possibly the only positive aspect in this production. Thankfully, they predominate much of the “opera” part of the work. Despite the non-existent sets, Wilson managed to convey both Ariadne’s despair and dignity. German-Canadian tenor Michael König’s voice is huge and the timbre is pleasant. Yet the awkward placing of Bacchus way back into La Scala’s deep proscenium put him at a disadvantage vocally. His usually overwhelming opening line “Circe, kannst du mich hören?” was almost sotto voce. Instead of the Classical Greek robe of Bacchus worn in the Prologue, König was dressed in a shabby white summer suit, further depriving him of authority. He looked like a croupier from a budget Las Vegas casino. Wilson, dressed in her Greek princess dress and placed at the forefront of the stage seemed like the dominant figure here. The desperate princess who succumbs to the God reverses roles and seems like the one ravishing the shabby croupier, destroying the powerful imagery intended by Hofmannsthal and Strauss. Nonetheless, the Ariadne-Bacchus duet was glorious, especially in the latter part when Bacchus was allowed in the front of the stage and his voice was properly heard. Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala’s forces under the attentive baton of Franz Welser-Möst provided the needed support for the two singers in the gradual and frenetic build-up of the opera’s climactic finale.

Ossama el Naggar



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