This 2006 Zurich production is not the best Ariadne I've come across. I do prefer the 1965, 2003 and 1988 productions as well as the 1978 film version. However, it is superior to the well sung but drab 2003/4 Paris production and the again well sung but convoluted and long-winded 2012 Salzburg performance.
In regard to any problems I had, there were some touches that I didn't get, like the Composer blowing his brains out rather than see his opera ruined by the Commedia Dell'Arte troupe rather than just running away, the Commedia Dell'Arte troupe dressed as waitresses and then as punks and Bacchus speaking of his mother, which added nothing and not very humorous or original. The action as the Nymphs talk about Ariadne meshes awkwardly with the libretto as well, and the sound quality is uneven, the orchestral playing being rich but the singing occasionally sounding too covered.
On the other hand, although in modern dress it does look good. People may prefer traditional production values, therefore they'd want to look elsewhere, but unlike the Paris and Salzburg performances at least they don't look ugly here. The costumes are decent, I did like Zerbinetta in the green dress, it does make her more sophisticated than you are used to but compared to some of the costuming I have seen for Zerbinetta this is much more tolerable. The settings for the prologue are minimalist and somewhat bare, but more than compensated by the use of lighting, how everybody acts and their rapport with one another. The opera, somewhat more artificial perhaps compared to the reality of the prologue, is not the usual island but a resort restaurant. This one is more interesting as it is like a very literal reconstruction of the Kronenhalle in Zurich.
As for the staging, it is more successful in the direction and rapport of the singers than it is with the individual touches. I do like how the protagonists are shown in a state of suspension, and I also liked how the more artistic side of the opera is explored with the themes of life and art, being and appearance, fidelity and infidelity, deathly paralysis and living transformation and presented as artificial.
Musically, the production is outstanding. The orchestral playing even for a texture more chamber-like than Strauss' Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier or Salome is rich, lushly romantic and appropriately nuanced and stylistic. Christoph Von Dohnanyi's conducting, if not as expertly as Karl Bohm or as feeling-music-through-your bones like as James Levine, manages to have great subtlety but also to be sensual.
Emily Magee is wonderful as Ariadne and the Prima Donna. Her Prima Donna is characterful, if not as entertainingly so as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on record under Karajan. She is even better as a more conflicted Ariadne, conveying the character's sadness wonderfully. Her voice is big and sails above the orchestra with ease, not as warm as the likes of Gundula Janowitz or Jessye Norman but a more than acceptable Straussian voice. Roberto Sacca does a good job in the thankless role of Bacchus, he sings with a strong lyric tenor sound and while not doing much of little as effectively as Jonas Kaufmann for Salzburg his performance is fine. Elena Mosuc was better as Zerbinetta in Salzburg for me(I also prefer Edita Gruberova, Reri Grist and Natalie Dessay in the role), here she is dramatically coquettish, charming and very thrilling, and while she does sing with a fine sound it was more flexible later with a couple of moments of smudged colouratura.
We also have a very touching Composer in the name of Michelle Breedt, who, with the likes of Sena Jurinac, Tatiana Troyanos, Sophie Koch and Trudelise Schmidt, sings with a rich sound and with a beguiling and poignant presence. The less prominent principal singing is also great. Michael Volle is in resplendent voice as the Music Master, another great performance to add to his Amfortas, Beckmesser and Jokanaan, while Guy De Muy is a Dancing Master of great extravagance. Another interesting touch was casting Alexander Pereira as the Major-Domo, he manages to be very humorous and deliciously self-ironic.
On the whole, an entertaining and interesting production but not the most ideal or the best. 6.5/10 Bethany Cox
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