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Strauss: Ariadne Auf Naxos / Magee, Dohnanyi [blu-ray]

Strauss / Volle / Breedt / Mosuc / Magee / Guth
Release Date: 06/25/2013 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 108045  
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Emily MageeElena MosucRuben DroleAndrew Ashwin,   ... 
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Blu-ray Video:  $39.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. STRAUSS Ariadne auf Naxos Christoph von Dohnányi, cond; Emily Magee ( Prima donna, Ariadne ); Roberto Saccà ( Tenor, Bacchus ); Elena Mo?uc ( Zerbinetta ); Michelle Breedt ( Composer ); Michael Volle ( Music Master ); Zurich Opera O Read more ARTHAUS 108045 (Blu-ray: 127:00) Live: Zurich 2006

If Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos gives one the impression of two dissimilar sections rather tacked together, it may well be because it actually was tacked together by librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Strauss himself. The original conception was to produce a Molière comedy, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme , for which Strauss would write the incidental music, followed by a new 30-minute chamber opera. In the fact, the short chamber opera ballooned to 90 minutes and the whole, long, unlikely farrago failed to find an audience with either regular theater goers or operaphiles. Strauss and von Hofmannsthal were left scrambling, and the frenetically paced Prologue was the quickly written result, to be tacked onto the front of the more measured, existing chamber opera. The Prologue consists mostly of fast-paced recitative, with only the trousers role of the Komponist (Composer) given much to sing. He (she) and some other characters in the Prologue do not appear again in the second section (act I), unless, like here, they wander silently through the new set as ghostly apparitions.

Ariadne has done quite well on home video, with several strong and competitive sets. This one from the Zurich Opera, recorded in 2006, has been reviewed twice previously in Fanfare by colleague Arthur Lintgen: the DVD in issue 31:6 and the Blu-ray in issue 33:2, both on the TDK label. I assume it is being reissued now by Arthaus as a part of the rebranding of the TDK video library it acquired several years ago. In summary, Lintgen finds the production is carried dramatically by American soprano Emily Magee, with solid, but not really outstanding singing.

I agree with much of what Lintgen has to say, so I will be relatively brief. The Zurich setting is updated to the present, doing no real harm, but Stage Director Claus Guth gives us a Prologue which is played completely without sets, only the curtain and a few small props are seen. I get rather tired of being told this overused concept enhances the drama of the interaction between characters. The Prologue of Ariadne is written as a comedy; we are not meant to dwell on deep interactions. To me, the lack of sets only indicates a lack of imagination or a lack of budget. Opera is supposed to be an audio- visual experience. Act I is set inside an iconic modern Zurich restaurant instead of on a lonely desert isle. This makes it visually much more interesting than usual, but makes a hash of some of the libretto, particularly Ariadne going on about the god who has come to escort her to her transformation into the after-world. The other denizens of Naxos—Ariadne’s handmaidens, Zerbinetta and her commedia dell arte troupe, and Bacchus himself—must be foisted off as waitresses, busboys, or other patrons of the restaurant. Lintgen failed to mention a key piece of stage business, in which Magee/Ariadne swallows some pills along with the oceans of wine she is imbibing and then slumps inert on the floor at the opera’s end. Has she found her own final solution to the enigma of true fidelity versus earthly transformation that von Hofmannsthal has set for her? That would certainly turn on its head the “happy trails”-type ending usually played.

It must be mentioned that much of the appeal of this set for Lintgen comes from the high resolution video and the high definition audio of the Blu-ray technology, although, as with other Zurich videos, the sound balance between pit and stage is not ideal. Now comes a new contender from Dresden, also in Blu-ray format, with Christian Thielemann leading the Staatskapelle Orchestra. The Dresden set features one of opera’s leading Strauss sopranos, Renée Fleming, with a cast of other strong singers around her. It also has some issues with sets and staging, but it is musically very strong and very recommendable. Also still available is the well-loved Metropolitan Opera production under James Levine, featuring Deborah Voigt and the incomparable Natalie Dessay as Zerbinetta from 2003, another major contender though only issued in DVD format. In short, there are several strong video choices for Ariadne, this Zurich production included. To watch Magee’s consummate acting in the restaurant scenes alone is worth the price of this disc.

FANFARE: Bill White
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Works on This Recording

Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Emily Magee (Soprano), Elena Mosuc (Soprano), Ruben Drole (Voice),
Andrew Ashwin (Bass), Michelle Breedt (Mezzo Soprano), Michael Volle (Baritone),
Alexander Pereira (Voice), Roberto Saccà (Tenor), Guy de Mey (Tenor)
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1911/1916; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/2006 
Venue:  Opernhaus Zürich 

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