Ariadne auf Naxos

Metropolitan Opera
Tuesday, April 17, 2001
by Richard Strauss & Hugo von Hoffmansthal

The Music Master   
The Major-Domo   
The Composer   
The Tenor, Bacchus   
The Prima Donna, Ariadne   

Conducted by
Wolfgang Brendel
Waldemar Kmennt
Susanne Mentzer
Richard Margison
Lyubov Petrova
Deborah Voigt
Joyce Guyer
Jane Bunnell
Korliss Uecker

James Levine
* * * * *

After being rather disappointed in the singing during the broadcast performance of this work, I thought that hearing it in the house might provide me with a truer picture of what was going on.  Furthermore, I had never seen this production by Elijah Moshinsky and was curious.  After all, the broadcast was actually the season prima with débutante Lyubov Petrova replacing the much-admired Natalie Dessay as Zerbinetta and, apparently, suffering from début nerves by assailing us with lots of shrillness in the upper register.  Also, during the broadcast, Deborah Voigt’s highest notes sounded, to this listener, strained and occasionally flat.  However, by Tuesday evening, the second of three performances in this run, total artistic and vocal self-assurance reigned.

The Prologue:  With the exception of the Major-Domo, the Music Master, Composer and, to a lesser extent, Zerbinetta, I find this section a tedious bore.  It appears to me as a celebration of ego and officiousness, overblown self-importance and pettiness, both artistic and otherwise, on the part of the so-called and unseen Gnädige Herr, the Major-Domo, the Prima-Donna, and the Tenor, and hardly hidden in the intensity and youthful ebullience of the Composer.

If I like the speaking role of the Major-Domo, it is because he represents a character rarely seen in today’s society and, when done by the right performer, can be devastatingly funny.  In character tenor, Waldemar Kmentt, this run featured a very fine and hysterically funny one; a comical version of the butler in the movie, Remains of the Day.  Susanne Mentzer’s Composer was a judicious mix of youthful intensity, idealism and awakening humanity.  And she sings beautifully!  After thirty years on the boards, Wolfgang Brendel still impresses us with his secure vocalism, excellent diction, and fine acting.

The Opera:  At the Metropolitan Opera, this section is entitled, "The Performance".  I wonder if this is done to underline a contrast between the Prologue’s mean and petty characters and the Opera’s representation of idealism and its juxtaposition of the types of idealism expressed by both Ariadne and Zerbinetta.  The singing was superb!  I could not have asked for a better Ariadne than Deborah Voigt.  Her voice was even and secure throughout.  The strain I had noticed during the broadcast had disappeared.  Her passion and intensity were truly impressive!  I can only hope to hear her as Isolde one day soon.  Lyubov Petrova’s Zerbinetta was dramatically and vocally secure, with a most effective characterization.  I did, however, notice something that had bothered me during the broadcast:  she really does not have a trill.  While I do not know if a trill is required to sing the role, it certainly does lend it a great deal of panache.  I think here of Dessay, Roberta Peters, and just about all recent singers to portray this character.  But when one thinks of it, Renata Scotto, a great singer who started out as a lyric-coloratura and graduated to spinto and dramatic roles, sadly admitted that she also never had a trill.  That never stopped her from recording Gilda and Lucia.

The three nymphs, on platforms up to 15-20 feet above the stage, which were covered by their skirts and moved by stagehands in the rigging under the skirts, sang beautifully, despite their precarious positions.  Richard Margison’s Bacchus provided a very fine example of the heroic, dramatic tenor’s art.  This is interesting, since he has not been very well received by many Met attendees in his Italian roles.  Finally, the orchestra under James Levine sounded divine, if a bit slow in spots.  But it never dragged.

All in all, a satisfying performance for me.

-- Howard in Griswold Hall   

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