Notes and Editorial Reviews
Recorded in 2003 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, this sumptuous production of Ariadne auf Naxos presents divas Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay in the contrasting roles which embody the opera’s themes: the deserted princess Ariadne, a ‘one-man woman’ who believes in loyalty unto death, and the flirtatious comedienne Zerbinetta, who takes a more pragmatic attitude to love and to life.
The noble, soaring lines of Ariadne gave Voigt a major breakthrough in 1991, when she sang the role in Boston, and it subsequently became her signature role. Zerbinetta exemplifies the dizzy coloratura characters which first made Dessay’s reputation.
About the production:
“The kind of pleasure provided by the Metropolitan
Opera's new production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos on Thursday night was precisely the kind of pleasure the work is intended to give: the thrill of beauty encased in irony, of sincerity at the edge of self-consciousness …Elijah Moshinsky's beautiful new production goes closer to the spirit of the piece, in which a rich gentleman requests that two contrasting entertainments be performed simultaneously: a comic commedia dell'arte romp and a tragic opera based on the Greek myth of Ariadne ... Various worlds swirl in a Straussian fantasy: the backstage and proscenium, the mythic and comic, the bourgeois and the aesthetic …
“Michael Yeargan's set for the prologue was literally a grand backstage scene, in which the Composer strains to maintain the integrity of his opera seria in the face of incipient farce. The greasepaint and bustle (with mimes and harlequins mixing with stage hands and opera stars) was exhilarating … The work's second half, which consists entirely of the Composer's staged opera with its commedia interpolations, was presented without any hint of that backstage world. Schematic suggestions of gold-rimmed mountains appeared in front of a backdrop of the heavens on which the mythic figures of the constellations were arrayed … The haunting trio of Greek spirits stood at elephantine heights on stilt-like platforms draped with skirts. When the commedia troupe arrived … Mr. Moshinsky gave it a playful spirit that recalled the films of Ingmar Bergman, who used the saucy innocence of touring acting groups as foils to the world of tragic reflection.” (The New York Times 1993)
About the performance on this DVD:
“… Ariadne auf Naxos returned to the Met in Elijah Moshinsky's fanciful 1993 production with Deborah Voigt as the prima donna who also portrays Ariadne in the work's opera-within-the-opera, Susanne Mentzer as the young male composer, and Natalie Dessay as Zerbinetta, the vivacious star of a commedia dell'arte troupe.
“Ms. Mentzer conveyed the harried despondency of the intensely self-serious young composer … with fervour and vibrancy … She also endearingly conveyed this fledgling creator's epiphany when Zerbinetta makes him realise that other things in life, say, a pretty girl, can compensate for the temporary mutilation of his opera.
“With breezy confidence, Ms. Dessay dashed off Zerbinetta's coloratura flights, pushed to comic excess in her daunting showpiece aria. Ms. Dessay's warm and focused sound carried easily throughout the house ... Ms. Dessay makes Zerbinetta humane and achingly funny. Ms. Voigt brought floods of cool radiant sound, arching lyrical beauty, crisp diction and sheer vocal charisma to her signature role. Both as the prima donna in a tizzy fit and as Ariadne bereft of love on her desert island, she was at once truly grand and amusingly self-deprecating, striking deadpan poses that any Broadway actor would envy.
“Ariadne is rescued, of course, by Bacchus … This dramatic tenor role … was sung with impressive confidence by Richard Margison. The baritone Nathan Gunn's hearty voice and light-footed nimbleness enlivened his portrayal of Harlekin. James Levine led a supple and fetchingly colored performance of the work … During the ovations, people tore up programs to shower Ms. Dessay and Ms. Voigt with makeshift confetti, a scene now captured for some future television broadcast.” (The New York Times, 2003)
"Ariadne auf Naxos is a difficult opera to bring off well. It requires top-notch singing and acting, the complete involvement of its cast, and a production that carefully balances outward reality with inner emotion, sarcasm with compassion. It has to be a successful drawing-room comedy, a slapstick farce, and a drama of death and redemption. I think Elijah Moshinsky’s 1994 production for the Met got it right, and that’s what this 2003 night at the Met shows us.
Yeargan’s sets are well done, traditional in one part, original in the other. Act I (the Prologue) is an 18th-century backstage, complete with a solidly wooden, multilevel staircase in the center from which the Major-Domo descends to the mundane mortals. It supplies multiple surfaces for a division of tasks and groups, looking busy and full while leaving clear pathways and a view to all on stage. Act II (the “opera”) turns surrealistic: faux astrological constellations drawn against an enormous blue sky, with the three nymphs in attendance upon Ariadne wearing broad hoop skirts that conceal one 10-foot and two 15-foot gliding platforms. A similar otherworldly quality pervades Bacchus’s appearance, in a smart black naval uniform against a backdrop of a brown trireme on a burnt-orange sky. By contrast, the commedia dell’arte portion of the entertainment is treated farcically, with a real sense of involvement, timing, and focus by the performers. The sense of a frame, of artifice, is deliberately kept alive to the end, even to the point of having Ariadne and Bacchus advance to the stage’s edge to sing her last notes to the audience, followed by the appearance of a manuscript silhouetted around the pair as they turn and move away. It is moving, and appropriate.
The performers are, for the most part, very fine, indeed. Susanne Mentzer acts and sings her heart out as the Composer, with Wolfgang Brendel, a bit worse for wear, nonetheless turning in a seasoned portrayal as the Music Master. Waldemar Kmentt, in the non-singing role of the Major-Domo, sneers to greater effect than anybody I’ve seen since Eric Blore. Natalie Dessay’s tone seems a bit hard compared to her usual bright, sparkling one, but her performance displays an exemplary degree of agility and finesse, along with an ability to make Zerbinetta appear far more than callow and hard-hearted. Her “Grossmachtige Prinzessin” rightly brings the house down with a roar, and keeps it in shambles for some time. Deborah Voigt sings beautifully, if without that last ounce of passion, but displays little acting ability. Richard Margison sings his difficult part well, though he lacks the clarion brightness that Bacchus requires and seldom receives. I think James Levine might do more to enliven the last pages, but otherwise he does a fine job keeping textures clear, and supporting his cast.
The DVD offers LPCM stereo, and DTS 5.0 surround sound. The video format is 16:9, and subtitles are provided in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. I find the image very clear and crisp."
Fanfare: Barry Brenesal
Ariadne auf Naxos
Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
The Music Master - Wolfgang Brendel
The Major-Domo - Waldemar Kmentt
A Lackey - James Courtney
An Officer - Mark Schowalter
The Composer - Susanne Mentzer
Bacchus, The Tenor - Richard Margison
A Wigmaker - John Fiorito
Zerbinetta - Natalie Dessay
Ariadne, The Prima Donna - Deborah Voigt
The Dancing Master - Tony Stevenson
Harlekin - Nathan Gunn
Brighella - John Nuzzo
Scaramuccio - Eric Cutler
Truffaldin - John Del Carlo
Najade - Joyce Guyer
Dryade - Jossie Pérez
Echo - Alexandra Deshorties
Conductor James Levine
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Chorus master Raymond Hughes
Production Elijah Moshinsky
Set and Costume Designer Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer Gil Wechsler
Stage Director Laurie Feldman
A Metropolitan Opera High-Definition Production
Works on This Recording
Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60 by Richard Strauss
Richard Margison (Tenor),
Natalie Dessay (Soprano),
Deborah Voigt (Soprano),
Susanne Mentzer (Mezzo Soprano),
Wolfgang Brendel (Baritone)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1911/1916; Germany
Date of Recording: 2003
Venue: Metropolitan Opera, New York
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