Ariadne auf Naxos, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, July 2018

One of Richard Strauss’s greatest works, with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, this juxtaposes a young composer’s new opera on the plight of Ariadne with a commedia dell’arte  entertainment, both to be performed for guests at the house of one of the super-rich.

Music Master, Dance Master and composer, all Images LFO/ Matthew Williams-Ellis

In the opera story Ariadne has absconded with Theseus, after helping him escape the Minotaur in the Cretan Labyrinth, hoping for a future together. But he has sailed away and she yearns only for death awaiting the god who will accompany her on that final journey. The host paying for the two entertainments is keen to have them over before the fireworks, and wants to enliven Ariadne’s lamentation and yearning on a deserted island with a combined performance of both opera and dance masquerade. His will prevails, and Act II shows the result.

Zerbinetta and the composer

The simple sets of Alan Privett’s production, with designs by Faye Bradley and excellent lighting by Ben Ormerod, serve everything well, but what really brings it all to life is the conducting by Anthony Negus. No stranger to the emotional power of opera (Negus and Privett worked together on Wagner’s Ring at Longborough), he brought a deep well of experience to the conflicted young composer, brilliantly sung by Clare Presland, who would rather die than compromise his beloved opera. Yet Zerbinetta, principal performer of the dance masquerade, persuades him otherwise, giving her simple take on Ariadne’s problem: one god has abandoned her, and she awaits the next as any woman can understand. Robyn Allegra Parton gave a delightful performance of this coloratura role, interacting beautifully in Act II with her comedy troupe: Harlequin (Julien van Mellaerts), Scaramuccio (Robert Roberts), Truffaldino (Timothy Dawkins) and Brighella (Aidan Coburn), eliciting audience cheers after one sexually charged scene.

Zerbinetta and her troupe

As Ariadne, Helena Dix was magnificent, her lamentations turning to sublime joy after the arrival of Bacchus, her voice rising to huge power at the end. Jonathan Stoughton, resplendent in his star-wars costume as her god-like saviour sang a wonderful tenor, creating the dramatic union with Ariadne as the young composer intended. In the meantime Act I was superbly performed with the Music Master (Darren Jeffery) and Dance Master (Harry Nicoll) portraying men of the stage who can make any performance work.

Union of Ariadne and Bacchus

At the side we see a huge ball of rope, plus other strands in the hands of Naiad (Suzanne Fischer), Dryad (Flora McIntosh) and Echo (Alice Privett) like Norns in the Ring, with the ball remaining as a proper reminder of Ariadne’s good deed in rescuing Theseus. Singing was in the German original, except that the spoken role of the Major Domo was in English, delivered in a flat northern accent by Anthony Wise, dressed as some ageing rock star.

This fine production brought to life the emotional despair of lost love, interleaved by the wisdom that the point of life is life itself. Very moving.

Performances continue on various dates until July 21 — for details click here.

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