United Kingdom Longborough Festival Opera 2018  – Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos: Soloists and Orchestra of Longborough Festival Opera / Anthony Negus (conductor), Longborough, 13.7.2018. (CP)
Helena Dix – Ariadne
Robyn Allegra Parton – Zerbinetta
Clare Presland – Composer
Jonathan Stoughton – Bacchus (The Tenor)
Alice Privett – Echo
Suzanne Fischer – Naiad
Harry Nicoll – Dance Master
Richard Roberts – Scaramuccio
Darren Jeffery – Music Master
Timothy Dawkins – Truffaldino
Anthony Wise – Major-Domo
Director- Alan Privett
Designer – Faye Bradley
Lighting designer – Ben Ormerod
2018 is proving to be the bumper year for a growing popularity for country-house operas – none more so than Longborough Festival Opera. With its finest views of the Cotswolds, and blessed with masses of sunshine, productions of The Flying Dutchman (review click here), La traviata (that I considered both profound and intelligent) and currently Ariadne are sold out. With heavy storms forecast on opening night, an umbrella adorned audience took their seats to thunderous sounds above. Was this a very early arrival of the youthful God, Bacchus? No, it was nothing more than a Chinook helicopter on manoeuvres!
Confidence in the orchestra pit is at an all-time high; performances are immense. Anthony Negus returns to work with the majority of musicians he has coached over so many years, building Longborough’s reputation for impressive productions; his own reputation as an interpreter of Wagner’s music is enormous and he returns next year to conduct Das Rheingold. With Richard Strauss’s fondness for Wagner’s music, Negus delights in finding the frequent Tristan chords and highlighting the recognisable motifs. Sublime playing gives everyone on stage confidence, providing enticing platforms for the excellent soloists. Clare Presland (Composer) is a revelation; she has blossomed since her last Longborough appearance in 2009; Robyn Allegra Parton (Zerbinetta), making her debut, is astonishing. Longborough continues to find these up-and-coming stars – it has been a memorable year for new talent.
Ariadne auf Naxos attempts to combine tragic opera with commedia dell’arte. The prologue sees the young Composer preparing her first opera at a party hosted by a rich parvenu. This will be followed by a burlesque troupe. Shortage of time before the fireworks display results in a decision for the opera to be performed simultaneously with the comedy. Fortunately, Zerbinetta has the charm and wit to placate the Composer and the desert island-based opera proceeds.
Designer, Faye Bradley returns to Longborough producing one of her uncomplicated sets for both scenarios; Ben Ormerod’s continued success with exceptional lighting plots helps one of Longborough’s regular directors, Alan Privett, deliver clever, inventive staging of the scenarios – the Prologue full of accentuated consternation as the implications of the simultaneous production dawns on the participants. Movement director, Michael Spenceley, another Longborough regular, works wonders with the many comings and goings of wigmaker, lackey, major-domo, dance master and the burlesque troupe. With the Composer (Clare Presland) reassured, an absorbed audience adjourned to their inspired picnics before the desert island opera of the second half.
Wagner’s influence of Strauss is noted with the introduction of a trio of nymphs, a trio made familiar by the Ring’s Rhinemaidens – creatures expressing certain sympathy with Ariadne’s sorrow at being abandoned by her husband. Contralto, Flora McIntosh (Dryad), is the pick of the trio as they haul on the thread of a large ball of wool to capture the formidable Jonathan Stoughton (Bacchus), as Ariadne (Helena Dix) encourages them to plead with him to continue singing, for she hails him as her longed-for messenger of death.
Ending with an extended love duet, Wagnerian in length, Ariadne exits the stage through Ormerod’s now deep blue doors, having found consolation in Bacchus’s arms. Both sing with extraordinary power – almost too much power for such an intimate venue. Stealing the limelight, however, in this thoroughly enjoyable, innovative production is the coloratura soprano singing of Robyn Allegra Parton, with surely one of the most taxing scena. In her appeal to Ariadne, woman to woman as the most gracious sovereign lady, she delivers her own fantastic vocal display of fireworks.
Another huge Longborough success runs until 21 July; try for a return, it will be worth it.
For more about Longborough Festival Opera click here.