Ariadne Auf Naxos - Opera North Review

Ariadne Auf Naxos - Opera North Review


Posted 2023-03-12 by David Keyworthfollow

Fri 17 Mar 2023 - Fri 24 Mar 2023

Opera North’s production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. Photo credit: Richard H Smith.

Ariadne Auf Naxos could be described as a culture war, or at least a war where one side thinks it has all the culture. If it were a reality talent show it would be called Diva Battle or something similarly sensationalist.

The contrived plot involves the ‘wealthiest man in the country’ commissioning a comedy and a tragedy to be performed on the same night. Just to make things even more absurd, he decides that they should be performed simultaneously - taking turns with scenes, with a stipulation that they finish before a firework display at 9pm.

In this Opera North production, the action of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s opera - first performed in 1916 in its two-part musical form - takes place in an Italian 1950s film studio.

In the Prologue, John Savournin as the Major-domo makes the most of the strained comedy in von Hofmannsthal’s libretto. In his red bow tie and green waistcoat, he is the mouthpiece, and at one stage megaphone-piece, of his ‘gracious masters’ capricious diktats.

The musical highlight of the Prologue is the duet where the temperamental but sincere Composer (Hanna Hipp) and the frivolous, but vulnerable Zerbinetta (Jennifer France) discover an unexpected harmony and personal chemistry – ‘you and I are kindred spirits’.

The musical highlight after the interval, was the entrancing aria delivered by Ariadne (Elizabeth Llewellyn) ‘the goddess of this island’. She reclines on a rock while her three nymph attendants, in black dresses, weave their siren dances below her.

Elizabeth Llewellyn as Ariadne with members of the Chorus of Opera North. Photo credit: Richard H Smith.

This is then interrupted by the Commedia dell’arte artistes who are not really funny in their own right and not bad enough to be good. They may have had the recognition factor a hundred years ago but they only provoked scattered laughter among the Lowry audience. It was only the quality of the singing which stopped them being merely irritating.

Jennifer France won a round of applause, after the ‘Grossmachtige Prinzessin’ aria - for her vocalising of the operatic trope of the fickle seductress whose failure to commit to one man sentences her to a lonely existence.

The evening ends with a long-winded but aurally compelling meditation between Bacchus (Ric Furman) and Ariadne on love death and the afterlife.

What the libretto lacked in dramatic tension was made up for by the staging. The set design, costumes, props, shadows and positioning of the performers created a relay of beautiful pictures. I was constantly refocusing my eyes away from the surtitles, each side of the stage, to take in the stunning on-stage visual compositions.

This performance of Ariadne Auf Naxos, sung in German, English and Italian, lasts two hours and 30 minutes, including an interval.

It continues its tour to Theatre Royal, Nottingham on Friday 17 March and Theatre Royal, Newcastle on Friday 24 March 2022.

See Opera North website for more details


75312 - 2023-03-05 15:08:24


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