Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2014Posted on 26 June 2014
Returning to direct this second revival of his 2002 production, Christof Loy gave us an Act I that presented the young composer in far better form than the first revival of 2008. Beautifully and strongly sung by Ruxandra Donose, he (she) showed fire in the belly, and frustration with the philistines around him. It was a terrific performance, and one admires him for being the only one on the payroll willing to defy the imperious Major Domo of Christoph Quest, who demands both opera and dance masquerade be performed simultaneously.
More haughty indifference from the Major Domo might have worked well, but he cowed the frazzled Music Master of Thomas Allen into impotence, and only the firm yet sensitive intervention of Ed Lyon as a brilliant and slightly camp Dancing Master seems likely to save the day. His well-timed remark to the composer — that hundreds of great masters to whom we now pay homage have had to win a first performance with yet greater sacrifices — was superbly delivered. When the pretty Zerbinetta of Jane Archibald, whom the director has deliberately made a more vulnerable character than usual, joins in to persuade the composer they share sensitive feelings not understood by others, Ruxandra Donose showed abundant energy in scribbling alterations.
By contrast the performance in Act II seemed to lose energy, but not for lack of a thrilling Ariadne by Karita Mattila. Expressing sublime melancholy and angst, her gentle notes floated over the still air of the island, and her wish for death reached a glorious high point. This is after Markus Werba’s superb Harlequin has urged her to live once more, and leads into Zerbinetta’s big intervention where the dramatic power and effortless coloratura of Jane Archibald inspired spontaneous applause.
The thankless role of Ariadne’s new lover Bacchus was sung by Roberto Saccà who improved in strength after a slightly underpowered start and meshed well with Ms Mattila in their later duets. Fine singing all round, and Sofia Fomina, Karen Cargill and Kiandra Howarth made a wonderful trio of nymphs, with Ms Fomina particularly notable in the soprano role of Naiad.
Sensitive music direction under the baton of Antonio Pappano, and if Act II seemed to lack some of the Strauss magic, the huge power and lyricism of Karita Mattila who is singing the role of Ariadne for the first time gave this performance an ethereal grandeur fully justifying the young composer’s belief in his own work.
Performances continue on various dates until July 13 — for details click here.