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Strauss: Ariadne Auf Naxos / Magee, Dohnányi

Strauss,R. / Magee / Mosuc / Sacca / Volle
Release Date: 02/26/2008 
Label:  Tdk   Catalog #: OPAAN  
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Reinhard MayrEmily MageeRoberto SaccàElena Mosuc,   ... 
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera House Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Richard Strauss
Ariadne auf Naxos
Opernhaus Zürich, 2006

Der Haushofmeister (the major-domo) - Alexander Pereira
Ein Musiklehrer (a music master) - Michael Volle
Der Komponist (the composer) - Michelle Breedt
Der Tenor / Bacchus - Roberto Saccà
Ein Tanzmeister (a dance master) - Guy de Mey
Zerbinetta - Elena Mosuc
Primadonna / Ariadne - Emily Magee
Harlekin - Gabriel Bermúdez
Scaramuccio - Martin Zysset
Truffaldin - Reinhard Mayr
Brighella - Blagoj Nacoski
Najade - Eva Liebau
Dryade - Irène Friedli
Echo - Sandra Trattnigg

Orchester der Oper Zürich
Read more Christoph von Dohnányi
Stage Director: Claus Guth

In a series of groundbreaking productions from the Opera Zurich, TDK presents a production of Ariadne auf Naxos, one of many masterly opera cooperations by composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Under the direction of one of the best Strauss conductors of today, Christoph von Dohnányi, with a cast of particularly strong singer-actors and a highly intense and thrilling dramatisation, this staging made for a visually and musically powerful opera viewing on DVD.

A rich man invites to a banquet at which – at his wish – a new opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, is to be performed simultaneously with the improvised play The Faithless Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers. The artists - composer, singers and the actors from the Zerbinetta’s travelling troupe - out of sheer necessity abide to the arbitrary decision of the owner of the house and accept his interference with art. Thus the theme of the works is set off: The barriers between the two seemingly mutually exclusive principles, life and art, are lifted and throughout the work, they are brought together by a dense network of countless conversational cross-references and musical self-reflections.

In the present production, Ariadne is sung by the American soprano Emily Magee, who has been acclaimed all over the world in works by both Wagner and Strauss, while the part of Bacchus is taken by the German-born Italian tenor Roberto Saccà, who is now regarded as one of the leading lyric tenors of his generation. Both were making their role débuts under the subtle yet sensual conducting of Christoph von Dohnányi, and both were acclaimed for their vocal radiance, subtle handling of the text and the care that they lavished on the technical aspects of their parts. The critics were also captivated by the rest of the brilliant cast: Elena Mo?uc as Zerbinetta, exploring the incredible heights in her role, Michael Volle as vocally resplendent Music Master, Guy de Mey as extravagant Dancing Master and Michelle Breedt as touching Composer. “Astuteness, wit and artistic understanding combine in this production to produce an evening that once again reveals the Zurich Opera at its best.” Summed up the critic of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

A wonderfully humorous and highly self-ironic step was to cast Alexander Pereira, long-standing successful director of the Zurich opera in the role of Haushofmeister (the major-domo) – he is the mighty master of ceremonies acting on behalf of his enormously rich employer who is forcing art to bow to his predilections.

Exploring the essence of the piece, the director Claus Guth and his designer Christian Schmidt worked with the binary opposites that are posited on every level of the work and that seem to be so clear-cut: on the one hand, there is the reality of the prologue and, on the other, the artificiality of the opera. In this production, curtains symbolizing the theatre behind their backs provide the mere undecorated space within which the prologue is acted out. The protagonists are in a state of suspension, not yet having laid aside their old personalities and not yet having assumed the new roles assigned to them. Conversely, the artistic character of the opera itself is explored, revealing within this uniquely artificial construct the most profound of human truths, that the antinomies of life and art, being and appearance, fidelity and infidelity, deathly paralysis and living transformation are artificial and acutally much more interconnected than meets the eye.

In order to be able to achieve the greatest possible degree of realism for their reading of the piece, Guth and Schmidt locate this “opera within an opera” not on the famous deserted island where Ariadne is stranded, but inside the authentically reconstructed Kronenhalle in Zurich.

This makes for a visually very attractive setting: Ariadne sits lonely in front of a glass of wine and in come Zerbinetta and her lovers to cheer her up and go forth with their own little quarrellings. In the end, she finds salvation in Bacchus (a god she has literally indulged throughout the whole play). An entertaining and intelligently crafted opera production of one of the key operas exploring the intertextuality between of “real life” and what today would be called “virtual reality”.

Sound Formats: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM-STEREO
Picture Format: 16:9
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
Region Code: 0 (all)
Number of Discs: 1
Running Time: 127 minutes
Booklet Languages: English, German, French


The prologue to this Ariadne, a Zurich opera house performance from December 2006, takes place in front of the curtain, on a bare stage and in modern dress. The Majordomo is played by Alexander Pereira, who is the intendant of the Zurich opera house. As the prologue ends, the Composer puts a gun to his head.

The "opera" itself is set in a relatively famous and elegant Zurich restaurant. As the curtain rises Ariadne is seen alone at a table, drinking wine, looking miserably unhappy, and she becomes more dejected and somewhat disoriented as her long, opening monologues continue. Three waitresses take the roles of Najade, Dryade, and Echo. When the players enter, they are restaurant personnel; a bit later they are customers, in white tuxes, with a sassy Zerbinetta at their center. They get tipsy and leave, only to return as sharp thug-like guys in black, complete with mullets (I guess Zerbinetta likes all types). Half way through Zerbinetta's big aria, the Composer is seen standing in the restaurant's doorway, watching--I guess he opted out of suicide.

Eventually all of the players get drunk and a restaurant-emptying melée ensues. As the three waitresses sing of the arrival of a god (which they read about in the tabloids, as if he were a rock star), Ariadne looks as if she's losing her mind entirely. When Bacchus arrives, he sits down to dine alone and Ariadne takes a handful of pills. He comforts her, and as they sing she seems to get drowsier and less focused. She expires in his arms--only to revive slowly at the last moment to receive a bouquet of roses brought to her by the intendant from the prologue, accompanied by the dancing master and music master!

If all this--the concept of director Claus Guth with sets and costumes by Christain Schmidt--seems like a terrible stretch, it isn't any more absurd than the original, in which the "wealthy M. Jourdain" wishes to be entertained by two simultaneous stories performed by two separate troupes of players. Of course it all gets into trouble in the details: any reference in the libretto to an island, gods, or the sleeping Ariadne are senseless in this setting. But the whole works well, with the emotions very much on the table (no word-play intended) and the reality vs illusion, play-within-a-play themes very honestly served.

Emily Magee is a ravishing Ariadne in every way. Looking elegant and sophisticated, acting up a storm just through facial expressions that would make a lesser actress look foolish, she sings with handsome tone and absolute security. Her many levels of piano singing perfectly express the character's sad plight. If her "Es gibt ein Reich" is not quite as luminescent as Jessye Norman's or Gundula Janowitz's, well, it's in a fine class right near theirs.

Elena Mosuc's Zerbinetta is not in a Dessay/Damrau/Gruberova class vocally, but she's thoroughly convincing. Roberto Sacca as Bacchus is not the Heldentenor called for, and there are moments when the orchestra nearly buries him; but his suave sound, fine phrasing, and ease with the punishing tessitura make his portrayal a success, filled with warmth. Michelle Breedt's Composer, dressed in the usual black, hide-me pants suit, is luscious--passionate, free at all ranges, expressive; she is a very interesting singer. The Harlekin of Gabriel Bermudez is wonderfully energetic and musical, and the rest of the cast is top-notch.

Christoph von Dohnányi leads a transparent reading, both in the wittier, satiric moments and in the opera seria moments. The chamber-music effect works brilliantly in the intimacy of the director's approach, and the grandeur of the final duet is enormously effective with Dohnányi's subtle manner of deepening the tension, scene by scene. I'm not certain that this ought to be anyone's first and only Ariadne (that probably should be the one from the Met with Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle on DG), but it's a fascinating look at a unique work, played and sung extraordinarily well.

--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Reinhard Mayr (Bass), Emily Magee (Soprano), Roberto Saccà (Tenor),
Elena Mosuc (Soprano), Michelle Breedt (Mezzo Soprano), Michael Volle (Baritone),
Guy de Mey (Tenor), Alexander Pereira (Voice), Martin Zysset (Baritone),
Eva Liebau (Soprano), Irène Friedli (Alto), Sandra Trattnigg (Soprano),
Blagoj Nacoski (Tenor)
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera House Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1911/1916; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2006 
Venue:  Zurich, Switzerland 

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