Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Grand Bargain

Ariadne auf Naxos (New Production)  
Cologne
30 November 2011


99 years and counting.  Anticipating the upcoming centenary of Ariadne auf Naxos, Oper Cologne is currently mounting a new production of the work.  New for Cologne, yes, but not new as in brand new.  The fiscal going is tough right now, so Intendant and director Uwe Eric Laufenberg went shopping for bargains. They found a production designed by Tobias Hoheisel in Barcelona and snapped it up, reportedly for a snap.  (These sets landed in Catalonia after being seen all over Europe as well as in Israel, following its 1997 premiere in Brussels.)  
If you like Jugendstil or Vienna Secession, as I do, it’s hard to resist the urge to run up onto the stage and take a closer look at the accents that decorate the massive reception hall of “Vienna’s wealthiest man.” The costumes by Jessica Karge are also attractive.  Yeah, I know the period is supposed to be 18th century, but it works; nothing in the text runs counter to the updated setting. Even the floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the hall open out to reveal not the Danube, but the waters of the Aegian/Mediterranean.  In all, a Grand Bargain of a production.
The original version of Ariadne was conceived by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannstahl as a companion piece to Hofmannstahl’s translation of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.  The play and opera were first produced as a unit in 1912 in Stuttgart under Max Reinhardt’s direction with Strauss himself on the podium.  The cast included venerable provincials of their art such as Maria Jeritza, Hermann Jadlowker, Margaretha Siems and Sigrid Onegin (as a Nymph!).  Several iterations in other cities followed, but it proved too long (six hours) and too costly to be worthwhile.  The second version dropped Moliere, moved the setting of the retooled opera from parvenu Paris to arriviste Vienna and opened there on 4 October 1916.  It proved a success.  It also clocked agreeably shorter than the original, lasting about two hours. This is the version most often performed today.  

Also in our hurried times, Ariadne is often presented without intermission.  Such is the case in Cologne.  
Everybody in the opera world seems to have the sniffles in these dog days of autumn, and both Regina Richter as the composer and Marco Jentzsch singing Bacchus had colds.  Neither sounded any worse for their ailments, and they acquitted themselves with some gorgeous, impassioned vocalism.  
Barbara Haveman sang with mounting energy and flexibility as Ariadne gives herself to Bacchus’ entreaties.  Anna Palimina (in place of Daniela Fally), singing Zerbinetta for the first time, proved vivacious, cute and pitch-perfect in her big aria “Großmächtige Prinzessin.”  Standouts in the outsize cast included Gloria Rehm, Adriana Bastidas Gambos and Ji-Hyun An as the nymphs; Harald Kuhlmann as the House Master, Johannes Martin Kränzle as the Music Teacher, and the quartet of Zerbinetta’s sidekicks: Jeongki Cho, Matias Tosi, Gustavo Quareama Ramos and Miljenko Turk.
Given the massive workload Markus Stentz has as Music Director, it’s a wonder that he can elicit such exquisite ensemble work from his cast and orchestra with a Gordian score the likes of Ariadne auf Naxos.  I wonder, though, what wonders he might discover if he took some time to plunge a bit deeper into this treasure-laden masterwork. 

© Sam H. Shirakawa
Photos © Karl Forster
Top (left to right); Regina Richter, Marco Jentzsch, Barbara Haveman
Middle: Daniela Fally and friends
Bottom: Nymph in distress prepares a drop-kick with her left foot.

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