Ariadne – elegant as ever

2 Jul

Christoph Loy’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos opened Pappano’s tenure as Musical Director at the Royal Opera House outstandingly and it remains one of their great successes.  The opening few minutes of the prologue with its breathtaking move from upstairs to downstairs still works its magic and the direction of the prologue generally is outstanding: it’s clear, funny and catches just the right sense backstage discomfort.  With Loy on hand to rehearse, it went like a bomb at the performance I saw on 30th June.

I find the opera itself a bit less convincing, missing some of the magic that there can be hear and appearing almost earthbound.  On the other hand, the direction of the singers and the emotions is excellent.  In many ways, it’s like the opera – quirky, elegant, classyand not always easy to grasp.  Ariadne‘s never going to be an easy opera but this makes it pleasurable and makes you admire both the opera and production.

The musical side is pretty good.  One of the advantages that Ariadne has is that, because it’s not an opera that’s ever going to be a popular treat, companies do it because they want to and so take trouble with the casting.  All the revivals here have been superbly cast and this is no exception.  The star is undoubtedly Karita Mattila as Ariadne.  She has a wonderful time as the prima donna in the prologue: it’s a role that can get lost in less expert hands: here you had no doubt about who was the star of the show.  In the opera itself, she sang with intelligence and commitment and much beauty.  She is a complete star and you cannot help but watch her – I’ve heard more purely beautiful singing, but few more heartfelt, convincing performances overall.  This is a performance to go with her Marie and Arabella.  Her Bacchus is Roberto Sacca – less taxed by the role than most that I’ve heard and doing what he can with a thankless role.

Jane Archibald makes a very successful Zerbinetta – singing the aria barely turning a hair and making it sound easy – but also suggesting the depths of her character – one of Loy’s best ideas is to have Harlequin dump her at the end, bring a sense of melancholy to the end.  Ruxandra Dunose is the Composer – warm, intelligent and enthusiastic.  I’ve found her in the past to be a slightly passive singer.  Here she was engaged, her tone warm, her identification with the role convincing – and also just a touch bland.

Thomas Allen is a familiar and expert Music Master: I’m not sure I’d want to see anyone else.  Ed Lyon is the new Dancing Master – elegant and cynical in a slightly different way from Allen’s down-at-heel pragmatist.  Markus Werba repeats his excellent Harlequin and the nymphs and comedians are first rate.  Christoph Quest is back as the Major Domo and retains exactly the right sense of superiority.

In the pit, Pappano and the orchestra seemed to be having a lovely time.  The balance was great, the textures clear and he caught the elegance, the eroticism and the wit of the score.

In short, it’s a lovely evening.  Even if you’ve been before, I’d recommend a visit if only for Mattila and Pappano and to remember what a really engaging opera and production this is.

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