|Index||4 reviews in total|
I've already reviewed a different DVD of the same opera at:
and rather than repeat any of my remarks on the background of the opera, I will refer you to that review.
I was quite favorable about that DVD but here we have a version with a more high-powered and, let's face it, better cast and conductor from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Mr. Levine has spread himself rather thin in recent years and, from what I've read, doesn't have the physical stamina and mobility he once did. And, true, many of his performances have been rather routine along the way as might be expected from someone who does so much performing. But here, doing a work he really loves, he shows how he can excel when in the proper mood.
In contrast to the somewhat gimmicky and updated other version, this is a completely traditional 17th-century production with costumes appropriate to that period. (The opera was originally the entertainment at the end of a German version of Moliere's "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme".) The cast, which includes Barbara Bonney and Dawn Upshaw in minor roles, has the imposing Jessye Norman in the title role and she does it to a turn as does the young Kathleen Battle as the coquette Zerbinetta. But the first act (Prologue) really belongs to the late Tatiana Troyanos as the put-upon Composer. (Though this part is always played by a woman, the character is clearly a stand-in for Richard Strauss himself.) Even though I suggested, in the other review, that I thought the music of the Prologue was routine, it doesn't come across that way at all here and perhaps the performance on the later DVD was to blame.
The second act (The Opera), shows both Norman and Battle as authoritative interpreters of their roles and the 60 years old James King (Tenor/Bacchus,) though hardly the "young god" of the opera remaining in good voice even if somewhat past his peak.
I can't say that this is the best of all the released versions as there are several others with equally fine casts which I haven't seen.
The "extras" on this DVD largely consist of rehearsal with Levine, mostly with Norman and Battle.
Premium operatic entertainment. Ariadne is a funny old thing,
postmodern well before its time. One simply has to trust to the
intentions of Hofmansthall and Strauss - and, if possible, a cast of
the calibre assembled here. Jessye Norman is luxury casting as Ariadne
and Kathleen Battle is a classy, hilariously casual Zerbinetta. They do
need to be this good though as they have to follow the set piece of
Tatiana Troyanos' composer. This late, great lioness of opera
transcends the peculiarities of the piece with her oration which isn't
lost by being on screen.
Led by a grinning Levine in the pit there's a sense of everyone having a party (to which Barbara Bonney is invited in a minor role for goodness sake). The staging is somewhat stock, the production acting as a vehicle for the singers. But with this cast, it's what you pay to see. The only true disappointment is the washy 80s video recording. 5/10
Having just purchased and watched the very fine Karl Boehm-conducted video with Gundula Janowitz (Ariadne) and Edita Gruberova (Zerbinetta), I figured there was no chance of finding a DVD version of this magnificent opera that was better cast. Little did I know! Jessye Norman elevates the role of Ariadne to an entirely more exciting and powerful level. Her performance of "Es gibt ein Reich" is downright explosive and must be heard (and seen up close) in this video to be believed. Her transformation near the end of the opera, with James King as Bacchus, is equally enthralling -- and King is no slouch either. The rest of the cast is mostly strong too, and Levine clearly conducts the piece con amore. Until recently, I hadn't paid much attention to "Ariadne auf Naxos" since the late 1970s and early 1980s, but my re-acquaintance with it makes me wonder if it is not Strauss's ultimate operatic masterpiece. (I know, I know . . . what about "Salome" and "Rosenkavalier"? An embarrassment of riches, that's what it is.)
Although I love Strauss and prefer Der Rosenkavalier as an opera of
his, Ariadne Auf Naxos is very special to me having it being the first
opera I saw at the Royal Opera House. While I prefer the 1978 film
production with Janowitz, Kollo, Gruberova and Berry, I much prefer the
staging here. The cast are much more comfortable in the Opera part of
the opera than the 1978 one, and the Vorspeil is equally impressive.
If there are two things I wasn't entirely crazy about, they were some grainy video quality, though the camera shots are clever and interesting, and James King's Bacchus. I love King, but I found him rather stiff and over-the-hill vocally here.
However, the orchestra perform with real passion and James Levine apparently loves this opera and it really shows in his conducting. The costumes and sets are simply gorgeous as well. When it comes to the performances apart from King they're truly excellent. Jessye Norman is an imposing Ariadne and Kathaleen Battle a delightfully coquettish Zerbinetta. I agree that the late wonderful Tatiana Troyanos is the star of the opera section as the Composer, it is an inspired interpretation and she sings beautifully.
All in all, an Ariadne with a lot to like. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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