The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Strauss' "Ariadne in Naxos."
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Reviewed by James Karas
If you see two goats, a rooster and bales of hay in front of a barn door on stage, you may well conclude that you are in Kansas. The map of New York State superimposed on the barn door will dissipate that illusion and you will recall that you are on the shores of Otsego Lake. So be it but what are those farm animals doing in Ariadne Auf Naxos?
In fact you are watching Francesca Zambello’s re-imagination of the Strauss/Hofmannsthal opera for the Glimmerglass Festival. The production is successful on most fronts. It is done mostly in English and the comic parts of the opera, especially the spoken sections, gain a great deal by being immediately understood by nn-German speakers. The sections involving Ariadne’s life on Naxos are sung in German and they are very effective.
Ariadne auf Naxos is set in the house of the richest man in Vienna where an opera and a comedy are to be put on to entertain guests after dinner. Scheduling problems force the host to order both to be performed simultaneously.
Zambello moves the opera from Vienna to a mansion in upstate New York and it works. We do not get a sense of the mansion because the “performances” seem to take place on a make-shift stage in the barn. Unless, the rich host keeps hay in his private theatre, that is, but the setting is effective.
The main characters appear as “themselves” and as people in the comedy or the opera that are performed in the second act. American Soprano Christine Goerke is the Prima Donna, a sort of caricature of the haughty singer, in the first act and Ariadne, the grieving princess abandoned on Naxos by Theseus, in the second act.
She has a big voice, a magisterial presence and some impressive low notes that make her a convincing Ariadne. She is interrupted by the comedians who are trying to comfort her but in the end her plush voice dominates the performance.
Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta (center) and the ensemble in Strauss' "Ariadne in Naxos."
Photo: Jessica Kray/The Glimmerglass Festival
Her comic opposite is Zerbinetta, the star of the comedy that is to be put on. She is smart, resourceful, agile, funny and a delight to watch and hear. All of which applies to soprano Rachele Gilmore. She has a purer voice than Goerke’s and the contrast between the two performers was a delight to behold.
The opera company has a tenor who plays the part of Bacchus in the “opera.” Corey Bix was not the best choice for the role. He has a small voice and his impressive physical presence could not make up for it. There were times when he was almost drowned by the orchestra and he suffered by being outsung by Goerke in their duets.
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin sang the pants role of the passionate and temperamental Composer. She displayed high dudgeon and tenderness as she got some instruction in reality. Martin does a very good job in the role.
Glimmerglass has an outstanding Young Artists Program and makes extensive use of the budding talents that it tries to shape. The comedians, the dryads and the other minor roles are almost all assigned to the young artists. The young artists and Glimmerglass deserve a huge bow for this.
The Glimmerglass Festival Opera was conducted by Kathleen Kelly and sounded simply marvelous. Yes, a woman conducted the orchestra and when, oh when, will we be able not to notice or comment on the gender of the conductor. Right now, women conductors are a rarity by any standard.
Zambello has found a refreshing and outstanding approach to Ariadne. We get the full benefit of the comic parts which can be drowned in a production that uses the original German. The tragic part is done superbly in its original language. Combined with the lush playing of the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra, this ends up being an exceptional and memorable Ariadne auf Naxos.
Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss (music) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (libretto) opened on July 19 and will be performed in repertory eight times until August 23, 2014 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org