Ariadne auf Naxos, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

When this started, silently, with dancers in practice togs marking steps on stage, I thought it might be another disaster, like Salome the night before. But then an orchestra came in, and by the end I was in tears. Fortunately the applause went on for ages, allowing plenty of time to recover and cheer.

This imaginative and coherent production by Robert Carsen sets the opera in modern times, complete with a mobile phone at one point, and it’s the only time I’ve seen the richest man in Vienna actually appear on stage. He enters with the Major Domo and they take tea, watching the dancers practicing. When the Major Domo finally speaks he is the impresario ordering the entertainments to take place as he and his master desire, and things take on a very realistic feel. It gradually builds until Zerbinetta, gloriously sung and acted by Jane Archibald, charms the composer, beautifully portrayed by Ruxandra Donose, persuading her to go ahead with the farce that’s been ordered. This dialogue took place against a black backdrop at a 45 degree angle, with lighting from below focusing on the characters, and it provided a very effective turning point to events. After it was over the composer came into the auditorium, made her way along the front row, handed a copy of the score to the conductor, and went to the corner of the stage to follow events. A spot stayed on her for the rest of the performance.

With no interval, the second part went straight ahead. The performers were in black, except for some funny nonsense with wigs, masks, and changing clothes by Zerbinatta’s followers, and the dancers from the silent prologue reappeared in several ways, with the men doing a charming number with Zerbinetta. At one point she appeared in the auditorium and went to hug the composer, cementing the rapport they’d found at the end of the first part. Finally Ariadne and Bacchus sang in front of a completely white background, Zerbinetta crossed the stage with her final comments, the curtain fell, and as the last notes came out of the orchestra, the composer reopened the curtains to enter a completely blank stage. The audience were so stunned that the applause took a while to start. As soon as it did, the dancers came on to lift the composer and carry her forward to celebrate the success of her composition.

Ariadne was well sung by Violeta Urmana, Bacchus by Roberto Sacca, and I found Matthias Bundshuh particularly good as the Major Domo. The orchestra played with clarity and emotion under the excellent baton of Jacques Lacombe. This was a great performance of Ariadne.

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