Semperoper’s Ariadne auf Naxos:an Estimable Pleasure

GermanyGermany Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos: Soloists, Staatskapelle Dresden, Omer Meir Wellber (conductor). Semperoper, Dresden, 15.4.2014 (MB)

Music-Master – Markus Butter
Major-Domo – Friedrich-Wilhelm Junge
Lackey – Peter Lobert
Officer – Michael Auenmüller
Composer – Barbara Senator
Tenor/Bacchus – Burkhard Fritz
Wigmaker – Matthias Henneberg
Zerbinetta – Romy Petrick
Prima Donna, Ariadne – Marjorie Owens
Dancing Master – Timothy Oliver
Naiad – Emily Dorn
Dryad – Julia Mintzer
Echo – Arantza Ezenarro
Harlequin – Sebastian Wartig
Scaramuccio – Gerald Hupach
Truffaldino – Tilmann Rönnebeck
Brighella – Aaron Pegram

Marco Arturo Marelli (director, set designs)
Dagmar Niefind-Marelli (costumes)


It is difficult for Ariadne auf Naxos to go too wrong, though Katharina Thoma managed to do so in her dreadful staging for Glyndebourne last year. That said, it remains a pleasure and an estimable pleasure at that, when it goes right, which for the most part it did here in the Straussian paradise of Dresden. Marco Arturo Marelli’s production has been around for a while – it appears on DVD, from the loving hands of Sir Colin Davis – but in no sense does it seem tired. Whilst dispensing with undue viennoserie, it is faithful to the spirit and idea of the work, set here in a modern art gallery: in many ways a more apt contemporary milieu than the musical world would be. As a friend remarked, the patron is just the sort of person who would buy a Damien Hirst. Indeed, nowadays, he would be far more likely to do that than to commission an opera. The ‘opera’ proper thus takes place on an island installation, around which the fashionable habitués of an exhibition opening night drift. (There are suitably dreadful paintings surrounding on the walls too.)  Marelli’s staging is not cynical, though; whilst there is plenty of fun to be had concerning the ghastliness of modern patronage, it is not overdone, and one of the joys of the production is also to see how some spectators, not least a lady next to whom Zerbinetta seats herself for part of her big aria, respond to the proceedings, and in some cases partake in Hofmannsthal’s – and Strauss’s – transformation. Personenregie, designs, and concept alike work well, both in theory and in practice. In that respect, it is worth mentioning that the Komparserie does an excellent job throughout. I did not care for the Composer’s running off with Zerbinetta at the end: far better to have that Prologue Augenblick as just that, but by the same token, it is a directorial indulgence that can be lived with.

The Staatskapelle Dresden is of course the Strauss orchestra par excellence, at least as much as its cousin in Vienna. Whether one thinks of Böhm, Kempe, Thielemann, or others, it would be difficult not to think of a favourite Strauss recording made here. Here the orchestra was on fine form throughout, variegated of tone, responding to the manner born to Strauss’s quicksilver transformations of colour and harmony. Conductor Omer Meir Wellber proved an estimable Kapellmeister: not necessarily fashioning new insights, but permitting the score’s delights to speak for themselves, and Strauss’s line to develop unimpeded. For something really special here, we may return to Sir Colin – his bust proudly on display here at the Semperoper – on DVD.

There was an excellent sense of company: apt in this of all works. Not all of the singing may have matched great assumptions of the past – has it ever matched Karajan’s recording? – but one could hardly expect that. Marjorie Owens proved a graceful, often moving Ariadne: a few falterings here and there, but nothing serious. Burkhard Fritz offered a little too much in the way of Tenor bluster, hectoring at times, but one can readily incorporate that into the work’s metatheatricality. If Barbara Senator’s Composer was less individual of tone than of stage presence, there was nothing too much to complain about either. Romy Petrick’s Zerbinetta was a joy: precise, lovable, and touching at those tender moments too. Equally impressive was a fine female trio of Naiad, Dryad, and Echo: Emily Dorn, Julia Mintzer, and Arantza Ezenarro. Their fabulous costumes were matched by assured singing and acting, offering quite the model of an Ariadne performance.

Mark Berry

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