Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2015Posted on 11 October 2015
Wow! This riveting performance under the baton of Lothar Koenigs gave Strauss’s music just the cheery insouciance and serious emotional depth it needs. And with Karita Mattila, Ruxandra Donose and Jane Archibald repeating the roles of Ariadne, Composer and Zerbinetta from summer 2014 it was a vocal and theatrical treat. How absurd that there are only three performances.
Christoph Loy’s 2002 production, with the twin levels of set for Act I and mainly bare stage for Act II, is now in its fourth revival but seemed to lose none of its edge under Julia Burbach’s direction for a cast that differs from last summer’s in some of the supporting roles. One constant however was the marvellous duo of Thomas Allen as the frazzled Music Master, and German actor Christoph Quest as the superior Major Domo in Act I, both from the original 2002 cast. They were terrific, with superb diction.
In the trouser role of the Composer, Ruxandra Donose walked the walk and beautifully captured the young man’s inspiration, interacting superbly with Jane Archibald’s pretty Zerbinetta whose cleverly manipulative wisdom wins him over. Ms Archibald’s charming coloratura was a lovely feature of Act II, and her lengthy and superbly sung Grossmächtige Princessin to Ariadne, sympathising with her abandonment and persuading her of the exquisite joy of a new relationship, brought the House down.
In the meantime Karita Mattila’s Ariadne had already hit lovely highpoints when singing of her belief in impending death, and when Bacchus finally arrived her ecstasy was gloriously expressed, the audience thundering their approbation during the curtain calls. This was a performance of such enormous power and emotion it seems almost crass to mention anyone else, but Robert Dean Smith sang well as Bacchus after he got into his stride, though his one great interjection in Act I was a disappointment despite the theatrical clutching of his throat.
Excellent movement and fine vocal contributions from the rest of the cast, notably Sofia Fomina, Karen Cargill and Kiandra Howarth as Naiad, Dryad and Echo, and I loved the gentle kiss between Ariadne and Bacchus immediately after Zerbinetta repeats her wise Kommt der neue Gott gegangen, hingegeben sind wir stumm (when the new god comes along, we are rendered captive, dumb).
Yet in the end this was a huge triumph for conductor Lothar Koenigs, replacing an earlier baton wielder who is said to have demanded the restriction to three performances before withdrawing his services.
The other two performances are on October 13 and 16, the second sold out at the time of writing — for details click here.