Richard Strauss‘ opera „Ariadne on Naxos“ is a play within a play within a play
by Ury Eppstein
The Jerusalem Post
APRIL 23, 2007
Israeli Opera Richard Strauss: Ariadne on Naxos Tel Aviv Opera House April 19 Richard Strauss‘ opera „Ariadne on Naxos“ is a play within a play within a play. It functions on three different levels and satirizes the decadent Viennese bourgeoisie of the early 20th century, much like Moliere’s „Bourgeois Gentilhomme“ – its source of inspiration. But Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal took social satire a step further by conveying the message that there are no genuine human emotions but only mock-emotions. In the opera, a young and ambitious opera composer is commissioned by a nouveau riche patron (who remains constantly behind the scenes) to write a tragic opera. The composer expresses his righteous outrage when he is told that his masterpiece will be performed preceding a commedia del arte. His anger only increases when the master orders that his opera be performed simultaneously with the comedy. But his anger dissipates at the moment he catches sight of the comedy’s enchanting lead, Zerbinetta. Likewise, his opera’s heroine Ariadne’s heartbreaking lament over her lost lover vanishes into thin air when her new God, Bacchus, arrives on the scene. One cannot help imagining Strauss and Hofmannsthal observing from the wings with tongue in cheek, as their opera shows that there is nothing that deserves to be taken seriously – including this opera itself. The simultaneous performance of the tragedy and the comedy creates a confusion for actors and audience alike. Consequently, nobody knows for sure at any given moment whether to grieve or laugh. This constant confusion causes enormous staging problems. Director Uwe Eric Laufenberg and set designer Tobias Hoheisel manage skillfully to rise to the challenge without getting trapped in the melange themselves. Among the performers, the highlight was Hen Reiss as Zerbinetta. Her bright, radiant soprano, effortless acrobatic coloraturas, stage presence, irresistible natural charisma, and superbly manipulated charm, raised her character to the level of a major role. There was room for improvement, however, in her German pronunciation. That also goes for most of the other Israeli- and Russian-born singers. Even native speakers of German were compelled to look at the screened translations in order to understand the text. Victoria Safronova’s appealing soprano in the title role was expressive, though tastefully restrained. In the composer’s role, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Houtzeel seemed sensitively aware of the comedy underlying her exaggerated theatrical expressions. John Horton Murray’s lyrical tenor made him a persuasive lover as Bacchus. Asher Fisch, conducting the Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion, made the best of Strauss‘ ingenious orchestration.