CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Ariadne in Washington

(L to R) Iréne Theorin as Ariadne, Lyubov Petrova as Zerbinetta, with Nathan Herfindahl, Corey Evan Rotz, Greg Fedderly, and Grigory Soloviov, in Ariadne auf Naxos, Washington National Opera (photo by Karin Cooper)
Let's face it: we will take just about any chance we can to hear and see Richard Strauss's operas. Ariadne auf Naxos, one of the odder and more beautiful of them, has been under review recently at Wolf Trap and at Covent Garden, both in 2008. It is a shame that this quirky opera, revised by Strauss and his brilliant librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, as a postmodern dissection of the perils and vanities of creating opera, returns to Washington National Opera at this time. The company's precarious financial situation has led to a season cobbled together to fulfill contracts, hardly a context for great Strauss to thrive. Even though many aspects of this production were disappointing, as heard at Wednesday night's performance, the score and libretto are so worth the experience, we still recommend attending, especially if you can take advantage of the discount prices currently being offered.

In my fall preview, I hoped to have the chance to hear the much stronger Iréne Theorin who reportedly showed up at the end of last year's run of Siegfried. Unfortunately, her Ariadne had a few beautiful, soaring moments among a lot of subdued, even inaudible stretches. Either it was an extremely subtle conception of the role or she is saving her voice to sing Brünnhilde in the concert performances of Götterdämmerung next month. (Actually, that is a pretty cruel thing to do to a soprano, to mix in two performances of Brünnhilde at the end of a run of Ariadne.) Theorin's reticence put the remarkably beautiful performance of American mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson as Der Komponist into greater relief, something that was sadly not fully acknowledged at the bizarre curtain call that occurred at the end of the prologue, long after the applause had stopped.

Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova is not the ideal Zerbinetta, but she got the job done vocally and had a charming, coquettish stage presence (put to good use in the publicity stunt engineered on opening night, when Petrova plopped herself down in the lap of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who appeared as a supernumerary.) Petrova did well in the showy coloratura parts of the second part, especially a flighty, acrobatic Großmächtige Prinzessin! delivered largely from the top of an immense prop piano. As noted of her Lucia this summer, she did not have the flowing legato and broad swath of tone needed in the duet with the composer in the prologue. It was hard not to think of the 1979 Met recording I listened to all this week, with Edita Gruberova's Zerbinetta and Tatiana Troyanos's Komponist.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, WNO's 'Ariadne' fails to find its voice at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, October 26)

T. L. Ponick, Satirical 'Ariadne' sparkles (Washington Times, October 26)

Philip Kennicott, Ariadne auf Naxos at the Washington National Opera (Philip Kennicott, October 25)
The most regrettable part of the casting was Bacchus, a punishing and mostly thankless role, as most of what Strauss wrote for tenors was. Both of the originally announced tenors withdrew: Pär Lindskog (whose repeat cancellation after last year's troubles in Siegfried cannot be appreciated by the opera administration) and Ian Storey, who was scheduled to replace Lindskog for a couple nights. The originally cast Scaramuccio, Corey Evan Rotz, stepped in with reportedly minimal preparation. While we have admired Rotz in other roles and we should thank him for making the show go on, he should probably not be singing Bacchus. Occasional coughing and vocal troubles throughout the second act may have been the result of illness, too. (It couldn't hurt for someone at WNO to try to call Diego Torre.) Gidon Saks was blustery, if occasionally indistinct, as the Musiklehrer, while Nathan Herfindahl, a former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist, distinguished himself as Harlequin, among the commedia dell'arte sidekicks of Zerbinetta, with a robust baritone.

Chris Alexander's production, which was premiered by Seattle Opera in 2004, updates the wealthy home where this chaotic entertainment is staged on the fly to "the private gallery of a very rich man [...] let's say in Washington, D.C." The concept is not particularly innovative and it does not really transform the story, except to make one wonder why such a modern patron would want to have a chamber opera and a commedia dell'arte farce performed his guests. However, the director balances the comic and serious elements of this odd work well, not allowing one to distract from the other. Andreas Delfs made his company debut at the podium, controlled but hardly scintillating. It was hard not to miss the more experienced hand of ailing music director Heinz Fricke, who conducted the opera the last time it was mounted by WNO, in 1994. WNO will eventually have to confront the music director issue, in the eventuality that Fricke may have to retire. Having some continuity in the pit is exactly what is needed for the Opera Orchestra, and Fricke's tenure proved, if nothing else, the benefit of conductor stability.

Six performances of Ariadne auf Naxos remain, from October 31 to November 13. A promotional offer of seats in the orchestra section for $50 and $75 each may still be available: mention Source Code 9234 when ordering.

No comments: