(L to R) Anne-Carolyn Bird (Naiad), Marjorie Owens (Ariadne), Leena Chopra (Echo), and Jamie Van Eyck (Dryad) in Ariadne auf Naxos, Wolf Trap Opera, 2008 (photo by Kim Pensinger Witman)
Strauss turned his biting wit on himself, helping his librettist make a caricature out of the character of Der Komponist, the composer who is trying to complete an opera commission for a wealthy's patron's private entertainment. The two stars of the opera, a soprano and a tenor, compete in vanity for the composer's attention. The noble patron, more capricious than any singer, now wants the opera to be combined with the antics of a troupe of comic players, led by the flirty actress Zerbinetta. The staging by Thaddeus Strassberger exaggerated rather than merely set the differences between popular and serious, increasing the membership of Zerbinetta's band with the singers who appear in the second act as Najade, Dryade, and Echo (which included rehearsing a striptease number). Numerous gags, especially involving toilet paper and the Tenor in the bathroom, were interpolated, halting the action completely more than once.
Robert Battey, High Notes Abound in 'Ariadne' (Washington Post, August 18)
T. L. Ponick, 'Ariadne' a joyful jumble (Washington Times, August 18)
Tim Smith, Strauss' comedic 'Ariadne' a delight (Baltimore Sun, August 19)
Fortunately, the music and the generally fine singing made the point much more clearly than the staging missed it. Standing out from the crowd were the composer of Elizabeth DeShong, who showed that her Strauss was formidable, if perhaps not yet the equal of her Handelian exploits in Alcina. The notes and the power were all there, but a metallic shallowness crept in occasionally, especially at the beginning. As the voice grows and matures, it will likely blossom into a lustrous Komponist. We were deprived of really hearing Marjorie Owens in Un Giorno di Regno, when she was indisposed, but as the Soprano and Ariadne, she soared from sonorous depths to a searing top, a large, potent, Straussian voice.
Diego Torre (Bacchus) in Ariadne auf Naxos, Wolf Trap Opera, 2008 (photo by Carol Pratt)
Leena Chopra (Echo, supposedly) in
Conductor Timothy Long kept his pick-up band, spread out from the pit to the left side of the house (where else to put those two harps?), together for the most part. The wind and brass playing was generally excellent, although the strings, in fairly small numbers, could have sounded more unified in tone quality and intonation. The costumes (designed by Mattie Ullrich) helped reinforce the director's vision of the opera's conclusion, misguided but with potential, in which Ariadne, the opera within the opera, ends and we see the stars taking their bows. The illusion is stripped away as the players appear in the "wings" out of costume, and Zerbinetta and the Composer meet in her dressing room. Lights out.
Only one more performance of Ariadne auf Naxos remains, on Tuesday night (August 19, 8 pm). The whole run reportedly sold out some time ago, so you will have to be inventive to find a ticket at this point.