Ariadne auf Naxos, Glyndebourne, May 2013Posted on 19 May 2013
The house of the richest man in Vienna, where Strauss and Hofmannsthal set the action, transfers seamlessly to an English country house in Act I with delightful set designs by Julia Müer. Wonderful lighting by Olaf Winter showed the gradual ending of a lovely summer’s day outside as preparations for the evening’s entertainment were underway, and there were glorious touches. Curtains on stage caused some amusing trouble for the excellent Music Master of Thomas Allen, and an indoor tree drooped on cue after his first interaction with the Major Domo. It did so again following the young composer’s exasperation with his music master, and the performers made this all work beautifully.
Thomas Allen was — need I say it — superb in every sense, with excellent German enunciation, well matched by that of William Relton’s Major Domo, who exhibited just the right amount of supercilious command. Kate Lindsey, making her Glyndebourne debut, and indeed her debut in the role of the composer, gave a fine portrayal of creative tension. She became so plaintive in exasperation at the philistines around her that the pretty Zerbinetta of Laura Claycomb clearly felt obliged to shoosh away her acting troupe, and then cleverly manipulate the young man. It was all delightfully staged, and Ms Claycomb’s high soprano gave a lovely contrast to the strong baritone of Dmitri Vargin as Harlequin.
As the first act came to an end the sprinkling of military uniforms came into focus with a 1940 German air raid. Bombers were seen through the window, and flames engulfed part of the rear stage. Pandemonium.
Setting it in an English country house is a fine idea, but bringing in the Germans to bomb the place is an odd thing to do. One might wonder at the unconscious motivation of German director Katharina Thoma, but motivations aside the result detracts rather than adds to the opera. Several months have passed since Act I, and Zerbinetta and her troupe are performers from ENSA brought in to cheer up the hospital inmates. The nymphs are nurses, Bacchus a wounded airman, and Zerbinetta a bisexual nympho who is tied up in a straight-jacket after trying it on with one of the nursing staff. Ms Thoma claims she wants to “explore how art and artists … interact with reality”, but in doing so she has taken the two levels that Richard Strauss so cleverly combined, and added a third one that disturbs the balance. This conceit foiled Zerbinetta’s cleverness, giving a rather tiresome spin to Act II.
Fortunately, although Sergey Skorokhodov as Bacchus seemed to lose his voice and pitch at times, Vladimir Jurowski in the orchestra pit and Soile Isokoski as Ariadne fully brought out the magic of Richard Strauss’s music.
Performances continue until July 11, and there is a live cinema screening on June 4 — for details click here.