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From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Ariadne auf Naxos, an opera by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Last night I went to Seattle Opera’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos for the fourth time in the last few weeks. That’s a whole lot of Ariadne. Obviously, I liked it. It was a pretty amazing production—well staged, great voices, great costumes … well done all the way around, I thought. Ariadne features three great soprano roles, and here Marcy Stonikas, a dramatic (or spinto?) soprano played Ariadne, Rachele Gilmore was fantastic in the coloratura role of Zerbinetta, and the mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen was terrific as the talented yet naive composer of an opera about a bereft lover stuck on a deserted island.

For those unfamiliar with the work, Ariadne auf Naxos is an opera in two parts. The first part is a Prologue that takes place backstage at the home of a wealthy patron of the arts, who has scheduled three events for an evening’s entertainment. The first is a dramatic opera by a talented young composer, the second is a comedy skit called Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers, and to finish it all off, a display of fireworks is scheduled to begin promptly at 9:00. Towards the end of the prologue it becomes apparent that there isn’t enough time for both productions, and all the performers are informed that the two plays will be performed simultaneously.

The second part is the performance of both the opera and the comedy skit at the same time, as demanded by the patron. It turns out to be wonderful mess, as the high pathos of Ariadne is constantly upstaged by the antics of Zerbinetta and her screwball clowns, and then the whole wacky crew and even the composer is laid low by the sublime pathos of an opera prodcution that had seemed mangled beyond repair. Low comedy, high poetry, and the drama of love found through mistaken identities are all held together by great, great music.

The video above is a legendary production conducted by Karl Böhm, with Gundula Janowitz, Edita Gruberova, Trudelise Schmidt (legendary for me, anyway, Janowitz and Gruberova being two personal favorites). Take a look at the staging, which is a good example of adequate staging in suitable costumes of the era in which the action takes place. Take a look, because I want to emphasize by way of comparison that the Seattle production is an amazing revelation of what great stagecraft can reveal in an opera. Here is a very short clip:

Here also is a video on Collaboration, Comedy, and Chaos, narrated by Patrick Carfizzi (who was fantastic in the bass-baritone part of the Music Teacher.

Last of all, here is a repeat of a clip I shared a few years ago, the aria by the Harlequin, which is what drew me into the opera in the first place.

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