An Ariadne to Hear, See and Savor: Strauss Opera By Lyric Opera Of Chicago

24/11/2011

Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 19.11.2011 (JLZ)

Cast:

Prima Donna/Ariadne: Amber Wagner
Zerbinetta: Anna Christy
Composer: Alice Coote
Tenor/Bacchus: Brandon Jovanovich
Music Master: Eike Wilm Schulte
Harlequin: Matthew Worth
Brigella: René Barbera
Truffaldino: Wilbur Pauley
Scaramuccio: James Kryshak

Production:

Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Original Production: Nicolas Joël
Stage Director: John Cox
Set and Costume Designer: Robert Perdziola
Costume Designer: Terese Wadden
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler

After a long absence, Lyric Opera of Chicago brought back Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos in a well-cast revival, in the familiar 1916 revision of the original 1912 score. Strauss deals with the vicissitudes of mounting an opera and the consequences when a patron commissions both an opera seria and a comic work, and then requests that the two pieces be performed not sequentially, but simultaneously. The interaction between the two casts – the comic troupe and the opera stars – never fails to entertain, and conductor Sir Andrew Davis succeeds with his superb direction. From the downbeat of the prologue Davis set a clear and vibrant tone that continued throughout this masterful performance, with fine orchestral blend and balance, and the string sound was particularly nuanced. Davis brought out the stylistic differences between the transparent timbres of the comic troupe, and the darker ones of the opera seria.

he cast was excellent, featuring Ryan Opera Center alumna Amber Wagner singing the title role as if it were composed for her. Wagner’s tone and clarity of expression formed the backbone of an outstanding performance. While the clear upper notes of her range delighted the audience, her mid- and low-range notes were even, and just as satisfying. And as she endured the intervention of the comedians poking fun at her, she showed considerable acting skill as well.

As Zerbinetta, Anna Christy also brought great facility in both acting and singing. The famous aria “Großmächtige Prinzessin” was delivered with the surety required and a winning insight into Zerbinetta’s personality. Nicely even and audible throughout, her passages in the uppermost register were particularly secure, sounding effortless. Her quintet with the comedians, “Die Dame gibt mit trübem Sinn,” had the musical strength needed, as did the final appearance of the comedians, where Zerbinetta has the final comment: “Kommt der neue Gott gegangen, hingegeben sind wir stumm!”

Brandon Jovanovich gave an exciting, commanding performance as Bacchus. He handled the challenging entrance with perfect high notes, continuing with burnished sound that was always appealing – never strident or harsh – culminating in the final duet, “Du schönes Wesen.” Here, when it becomes clear that the god Ariadne implores is not Hermes (to lead her to death) but Bacchus (to take her with him to the heavens), Jovanovich and Wagner concluded the opera vibrantly.

In the trouser role of the composer, Alice Coote gave a stylish performance, using intelligent phrasing, inflection and dynamics, and delivered the famous passage “Musik ist eine heilige Kunst” exquisitely. When the composer faces an impending disaster, Coote expressed the apprehension beautifully, and the enthusiastic applause she received at the end of the prologue was well earned. Last season, Coote’s fine mezzo merited attention as Dejanira in the Lyric’s production of Hercules, and here she was even more impressive.

The other roles were well cast, with baritone Matthew Worth making his Lyric debut as Harlekin, and bringing out details not always heard. Likewise, Eike Wilm Schulte was persuasive as the music master, with his exemplary phrasing and diction making the supertitles superfluous. Nili Riemer (Naiad), Kiri Deonarine (Echo) and Jamie Barton (Dryad) created a tight ensemble accompanying Ariadne, led by Barton’s silvery tone. And in keeping with her name, Echo was placed above the stage – a nice touch.

The production itself is appealing, and particularly effective near the end, when scene rotates between the presentation of “Ariadne” onstage and the antics behind the scenes. In the end, the impact – of both music and drama – emerged powerfully. With a world-class cast conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, it is an Ariadne to hear, see and savor.

James L. Zychowicz

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