Saved by Magee, Mosuc, Obonya, the nymphs and especially Kaufmann...
It is a shame that I didn't care for this production seeing it on Youtube just today. The opera I simply love, the libretto is one of the more sophisticated librettos of any of Strauss' operas and the music is some of Strauss' most beautiful. However, I didn't care for the production.
There are some good things however. There are three great performances. Emily Magee is characterful as the Prima Donna and poignant as Ariadne, dramatically she is just wonderful. Her voice does show a warm and now quite dark tone and a generous size, though occasionally her tuning can be a bit wayward. Elena Mosuc is overall thrilling as Zerbinetta, for what she lacks in flexibility occasionally she makes up for with confidence and ease in her singing. Jonas Kaufmann's Bacchus is brilliant. I have often thought the role thankless, but I would never have guessed that with Kaufmann as he does so much with it. He is very heroic and passionate, I rarely find that with those in the role, and he sings with warmth and great musicality.
Outside of those performances, there are a couple of other good things. The Nymphs are really splendidly characterised, the choreography is quite good but over too soon and Bacchus' entrance is by far the best that the orchestra play during the entire production, loud and quite spine-tingling. Cornelius Obonya is wonderfully buoyant also as Jourdain, a character who never appears on-stage in the version I know better and in all honesty much prefer.
Against all this, the production itself is too convoluted and doesn't appeal visually. The settings are spare in alternative to opulent and the costumes I was confused at times at the time period they were meant to represent, bright white costumes and as close to a leopard-print suit for Kaufmann as you can get. For those wondering, this is a rare performance of the 1912 version, interesting in itself but I do much prefer the revised version(1916 is it not?). The 1912 version has some great music and the like, Zerbinetta's big aria for example is even more difficult than that of the revised version, but it is overlong and long-winded, which was a large part of the problem with the problem also.
Especially true to this are the scenes between Hoffsmathal and Ottonie. Michael Rotschopf and Regina Fritsch in the roles actually do act very well, but they are not helped at all by three big debits. One is the pace, in these segments it has a real tendency to drag on and on. Two is the story or lack of it, or if there was one during this scenes it wasn't that obvious to me. Three is the fact that the dialogue is very clichéd and more often than not painfully so. Zerbinetta's friends' antics, such as riding on scooters and ducking under the piano wreckage, got on my nerves after a while.
Part of me was hoping the orchestral playing and conducting would elevate things, but unfortunately both are largely inconsistent. Ariadne is one of Strauss' best overall scores and is deserving of stronger treatment than is shown here. The orchestral playing is ponderous and tentative in tempo all too often, and overall it also lacks lushness and power. Daniel Harding's conducting has been much better before, it is too flabby, with a lack of intelligent phrasing, clear textural colours and above all leadership.
Thomas Frank has a lovely voice as the Composer, but is nowhere near as moving as one would want from the role. Zerbinetta's friends are well sung but they are let down by annoying stage direction. I also much prefer the role sung by a mezzo. Bechtolf's stage direction doesn't make the grade either, he only succeeds in making the production more than it already is rather than tying things together, instead of being funny and characterful Zerbinetta's friends are made to do things that not only grate but come across as meaningless as well. Hoffsmanthal being inspired by Ottonie are Zerbinetta's alienation are additions that don't add anything and are not properly explored. That is likewise true of the idea to have Jourdain's extravagances used as a seduction strategy, an interesting angle but again unsatisfyingly explained.
All in all, has some great singing but ends up being too convoluted and long-winded. 4/10 Bethany Cox
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