Triply Disappointing, Manifold Delighting: Ariadne auf Valencia

SpainSpain R. Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos: Soloists, Valencia Community Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Palau de les Arts, Valencia, 16.12.2011 (JMI)

Concert Version

Ariadne: Amber Wagner
Zerbinetta: Julia Bauer
Bacchus: Nikolai Schukoff
Composer: Cecelia Hall
Music Master: Carlos Álvarez
Harlekin: Nikolai Borchev
Dryade: Adriana Di Paola
Najade: Helen Kearns
Echo: Sandra Ferrández
Dance Master/Scaramuccio: Vincenç Esteve
Brighella: Barry Banks
Truffaldino: Mika Kares

When this concert version of Ariadne auf Naxos was announced, it had three main attractions: Riccardo Chailly on the podium, foremost. Contingent on his appearance was the second attraction, namely the chance to hear the original 1912 version of Ariadne, as a kind of prologue to Chailly’s Salzburg performances next summer. Thirdly, Adrienne Pieczonka—probably the best Ariadne today—was announced in the title role.

By the time the concert came around, these attractions had all gone. First Riccardo Chailly canceled for health reasons. Palau de les Arts responded stylishly by securing Sir Andrew Davis to step in. But that meant going back (or forward?) to the traditionally performed revised 1916 version what Mr. Davis had just been conducting in Chicago. Finally, Adrienne Pieczonka canceled and was replaced by the young American soprano Amber Wagner, who had been the star in the above mentioned Chicago performances.

available at Amazon
R.Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos, 1912 Version,
K.Nagano / Sumi Jo, E.T.Richter, G.Winbergh, S.Cole, M.Price
Virgin Classics

But of dashed hopes was a very nice performance born. And if opera houses are to be judged by the quality of substitutes and replacements they can get, Valencia has shown to have arrived somewhere very near the top of the heap.

Sir Andrew Davis’ reading of the magnificent score was excellent, his conducting careful, but with a good dose of inspiration. The Valencia’s Orchestra, as always, was a pleasure to listen to. If the rather sparsely filled hall indicated that a few listeners had stayed away following these changes, it was certainly to their own detriment.

The young (31) American soprano Amber Wagner was an outstanding Ariadne. In Chicago she made the audience forget the originally scheduled Deborah Voigt, in Valencia she nearly equaled the feat viz. Mme. Pieczonka.

There are three outstanding, particularly interesting young American sopranos on the circuit these days, all of which should enjoy a bright future, even if they don’t cut the most becoming figure on stage: Any opportunity to hear Angela Meade, Heidi Melton, and Amber Wagner ought not be missed. Speaking of Mlle. Wagner in this performance, I can only repeat that her soprano is beautiful, powerful, very homogeneous through the whole tessitura and that she knows how to express emotions in her singing. I would love to see her in Verdi roles, because it is one of these voices that one identifies with a Verdi soprano.

German soprano Julia Bauer was a good Zerbinetta, better than last time I saw her in Die Schweigsame Frau. She is a light soprano with a middle range of a certain quality, but too metallic a top. Diana Damrau she ain’t, but when the latter can’t be had, she’s a worthy alternative for the character.

Austrian tenor Nikolai Schukoff had to sail through the high and rough waves Richard Straus wrote for Bacchus. To his credit: he did not sink, which is—as the inclined listener can appreciate—already important. The rest of the problems are almost intrinsic to the role; say it with a consoling tone: “It’s OK; it can happen to the best of Bacchuses.”

Young American mezzo Cecelia Hall was a pleasant surprise as the Composer. She was a very late addition to the cast, since this character does not exist in the original version. She owns a pleasant voice which she knows how to use, and encounters slight limitations only at the lower end of her tessitura.

Nikolai Borchev is a real specialist in the character of Harlekin and he was excellent this time again. Carlos Alvarez had a go at the part of the Music Master in this version, and the most important aspect of his performance is that his voice seems recovered, which is great news.

In the trio of nymphs Italian mezzo Adriana Di Paola stood out as Driade. The irregular but interesting voice of Irish soprano Helen Kearns served the part of Najade and Sandra Ferrandez was not bad as Echo. As Echo.

In the Zerbinetta troupe there were remarkable performance by the two tenors, Barry Banks, a luxury as Brighella, and Vincenç Esteve, who doubled as Scaramuccio and Dance Master in the Prologue. Bass Mika Kares was a more modest Truffaldino.

José M. Irurzun