Initial Misses Give Way to Big Hit: Scottish Opera’s Ariadne auf Naxos

08/04/2018

Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Scottish Opera / Brad Cohen (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 7.4.2018. (SRT)

Laura Zigmantaite, Mardi Byers, Elizabeth Cragg and Lucy Hall in Ariadne auf Naxos
(c) Richard Campbell

Cast:

Ariadne – Mardi Byers
Bacchus – Kor-Jan Dusseljee
Composer – Julia Sporsén
Zerbinetta – Jennifer France
Music Master – Sir Thomas Allen
The Party Planner – Eleanor Bron
Dancing Master – Alasdair Elliott
Scaramuccio – Daniel Norman
Harlequin – Alex Otterburn
Truffaldino – Lancelot Nomura
Naiad – Elizabeth Cragg
Echo – Lucy Hall
Dryad – Laura Zigmantaite
Brighella – Elgan Llyr Thomas

Production:

Director & Designer – Antony McDonald
Lighting – Wolfgang Göbbel

Ariadne auf Naxos is a problematic work at the best of times, with its hybrid structure of ‘Opera’ and ‘Prologue’, and the composer’s intentional embrace of contrast rather than coherence. That can be a virtue in the right hands, though aspects of tonight showed that the contrasts can cause hazards too.

Too much of the opening Prologue was misjudged. For one thing, it was sung in English while the Opera was sung in German. Nothing wrong with that per se, and you could argue that it suits the dramatic conceit very well. Much of Helen Cooper’s translation was clumsy and ill fitting, however – describing the opera as ‘shit’ was cheap and unbecoming – and Eleanor Bron camping it up as the servant of the ‘richest man in Glasgow’ wore thin pretty quickly. Nor was the physical comedy of the first half particularly engaging, with the comedians seeming threatening rather than appealing.

Nevertheless, it was anchored by a very appealing Composer in soprano Julia Sporsén, whose warm, throbbing voice exemplified all of the young artist’s creativity and virility, and her scene with Jennifer France’s Zerbinetta was beautifully insightful, not least because of the gender-bending implications it contained. Furthermore, it was a luxury cameo having Thomas Allen as the Music Master. His voice is a shadow of what it was, but in this brief role his lifetime of artistry oozes through every syllable, and he had by far the best diction of anyone in the cast.

Things picked up noticeably for the ‘Opera’ itself, anchored by Antony McDonald’s shadowy set that evoked the Satis House of Great Expectations, and the singing was as fine as any I have heard from Scottish Opera since their marvellous Pelléas of last year (click here). Mardi Byers took a while to settle into the role of Ariadne but had all the richness of the part when she did so, and made a refulgent contrast to the brilliantly brittle Zerbinetta of Jennifer France, who sang her aria perfectly while simultaneously doing a striptease and swinging on a trapeze. It is a rare thing to hear Bacchus sung with any confidence at all, and to hear Kor-Jan Dusseljee sing it with such richness and security was a special treat. The three nymphs blended together magically, and the quartet of comedians sounded super, anchored by the youthful Harlequin of Alex Otterburn.

McDonald’s production dressed the ‘high’ characters in opulent costumes, while anchoring the ‘low’ ones in the world of circus and cabaret, and it worked very well, as did Brad Cohen’s transparent direction of the orchestra who, after a decidedly ropey start to the Prologue, conjured up all of Strauss’s refulgent majesty in the second half. It was proof that, when you let the music speak for itself, there’s little more that you need to do.

Simon Thompson

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Comments

  1. James Black says:

    A quick correction: Julia Sporsén is a soprano not a mezzo-soprano. It was good to hear an artist showing absolutely conclusively why Richard Strauss wrote this role for a soprano: it was first sung by Lotte Lehmann. [edited comment]

  2. Jim Pritchard says:

    Thanks for an important factual correction (now changed) and I hope Ms. Sporsén appreciates her very favourable personal review. S&H

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Some Forthcoming London Events from Temple Music __________________________________
  • NEW! Royal Opera House Cinema Festival Begins Monday 3 December in State-of-the-Art Linbury Theatre __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet at the London Coliseum 13 December 2018 – 20 January 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Looking Ahead to the 2019 Lucerne Festivals __________________________________
  • NEW! Sándor Végh Memorial Concerts 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Perform Amahl and the Night Visitors in December __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR ELIM CHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Iain Farrington’s Mahler Piano Series was an Extraordinary Marathon __________________________________
  • NEW! Vancouver New Music’s Quartetti Festival: Recharging the Contemporary String Quartet __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST ANGELA HEWITT IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Montserrat Caballé (1933 – 2018): A Personal Tribute by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! The Future of Opera is Theatre: An Essay by Casey Creel __________________________________
  • NEW! Jacqui and David Morris’s New Documentary Film Nureyev Celebrates a Unique Man and Dancer __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month