A rich man of the town is giving a party. He has ordered a sumptuous banquet with fireworks and a surprise for his guests – a performance of the opera Ariadne auf Naxos. The master of the house has commissioned it from a young composer engaged famous singers for the premiere.
During the final preparations the musicians learn by chance that after the premiere the same stage will host a performance by a lowbrow troupe of comedians led by the capricious dancer Zerbinetta. The musicians are incensed at this coupling and the composer himself feels that his work will be degraded.
Just before the opera begins, however, the capricious patron’s servant announces that his master has changed his plans yet again: now he wants both the tragic opera and the buffonade to be performed simultaneously. The musicians are perplexed as to how this can be achieved.
Zerbinetta and her troupe are not at all perturbed by this. They are used to improvising on the stage. The young composer, however, is as dark as a thundercloud. Ultimately he is forced to agree to an abridged performance of his opus. At this difficult time he finds consolation in Zerbinetta: after a heated dispute about romantic love she sets her cap at him. However, when he sees that his work has been transformed into a vulgar comedy the composer despairs once more.
Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete, is unable to find relief from her woes. Her beloved Theseus has abandoned her on a barren island. Her laments are heard only by the woodland and water nymphs Dryad and Naiad and the mountain nymph Echo. At this point Zerbinetta comes onstage with her comedians and turns the production upside down; forgetting all about the plot, all begin to improvise.
Zerbinetta tells Ariadne the story of her own love and says that the pain over a lost love is always replaced by the thrill of a new one. Ariadne, however, makes no response. She continues to wait for Hermes, the herald of death. Suddenly the nymphs notice the young god Bacchus, who has just escaped unharmed from the clutches of the sorceress Circe who attempted to transform him into a beast.
Ariadne is convinced that she is face to face with the long-awaited god of death, while Bacchus, initially thinking her to be another sorceress, falls passionately in love with her. His love helps Ariadne to forget her grief and gain happiness once more.
World premiere: 25 October 1912, Hoftheater (Kleines Haus), Stuttgart
Premiere of the second version: 4 October 1916, Hofoper, Vienna
Russian premiere and premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 2 February 2004
Premiere of this production: 8 March 2011, Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre
Running time 2 hours
The Performance without interval
“At the end of the performance, which lasted two and a half hours with no interval, the audience broke into a frenzy from the “high” they had received, and so Ariadne has every chance of being a success in the future.”
“Pudova, with her clear, powerful and pliant voice, deserved the praise of the audience from her very first appearance. Three girls – Anastasia Kalagina, Anna Kiknadze and Eleonora Vindau (Naiad, Dryad and Echo) – wove their voices together in an intricate series of ensembles and they looked, so to speak, ‘a million dollars.’”
“In readiness to storm the Tchaikovsky Competition, Olga Pudova (as Zerbinetta, the irrepressible leader of the troupe of comedians) and Maria Maksakova (in the mezzo-soprano role of the Composer) of the famed Maksakov performing dynasty performed and sang brilliantly. Singers acting out love… They gave the audience the chance to consider whether or not there might be some lesbian subtext in Strauss’ operas. The more so as in the score there is rather a lot of decadent erotic flair in the love dialogues of the various female voices.”
“The three nymphs were surprisingly the best – Anastasia Kalagina, Anna Kiknadze and Eleonora Vindau. These blossoming young women in their stunning 18th century dresses with their brilliant voices blended together in an excellent ensemble reflected the mystery which, even in comic operas, is present with Strauss. And, of course, in Valery Gergiev’s orchestra, with its unparalleled ability to draw out the dying chords as if life itself were coming to an end this instant.”
“Sturminger is a genius because blending genres, styles and eras seems to come to him so easily. He resolved the task with Mozartian dazzle.”
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