Friday 4 April 2008

Ariadne auf Naxos, Vienna State Opera, 4 April 2008

Vienna State Opera

Major Domo – Hans Peter Kammerer
Music Master – Michael Volle
The Composer – Michaela Selinger
Der Tenor/Bacchus – Lance Ryan
An officer – Martin Müller
Dancing Master – Alexander Kaimbacher
Wigmaker – Wolfram Igor Derntl
A lackey – Marcus Pelz
Zerbinetta – Daniela Fally
Prima donna/Ariadne – Adrianne Pieczonka
Harlequin – Adrian Eröd
Scaramuccio – Peter Jelosits
Truffaldino – Wolfgang Bankl
Brighella – Alexander Kaimbacher
Naiad – Jane Archibald
Driad – Roxana Constantinescu
Echo – Elisabeta Marin

Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera
Friedrich Haider (conductor)

Filippo Sanjust (director and designs)

This did not start promisingly. The Overture was rather on the brisk side. Whilst there should of course be lightness, there should not only be lightness. Indeed, throughout the Prologue, there were problems with balance and a lack of depth to the orchestral sound, a depth which is necessary in spite of the chamber music forces. No one knew this better than Herbert von Karajan, as preserved in his definitive EMI recording. Friedrich Haider did not seem really to settle until some time into the Opera. The progression towards the climactic moment of the Prologue – one of those moments in which Strauss, here in the guise of the Composer, lets the mask slip and proclaims his love for music – was fatally compromised in a headlong rush, and there were times here when pit and stage were simply not co-ordinated. Michaela Selinger was adequate in this role; however, at least on this evidence, hers is neither a great assumption nor a great voice. Michael Volle and Alexander Kaimbacher were, however, excellent. If a Dancing Master is memorable, he must have done something impressive. Hans Peter Kammerer’s Major Domo was not the larger-than-life figure one often encounters, although it is arguable that he should not be, given his station.

If one were looking for a ‘traditional’ production, one would be hard put to find one more so than this, certainly in terms of its designs. There is no reason in principle why such a production should not work, of course, but one might say that we see quite enough of the (imagined) eighteenth century in Vienna as it is, and that something a little more imaginative might pay theatrical dividends. (That Filippo Sanjust’s production, first seen in 1976, here received its 149th performance, may be suggestive.) The Personenregie was largely unremarkable – doubtless due in part to the repertory system – although there was a nice sense of business from the assorted servants. However, when I compare this to Christof Loy’s revelatory Covent Garden production – the first of Antonio Pappano’s new regime – it is abundantly clear what was lacking: something very important, namely a sense that the Prologue is about us: the audience, our stances, our prejudices, our reactions. In the ever-quotable words of Horace, mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur. ('Change but the name, and the tale is told of you.') Here we simply had a pretty show. Perhaps it is the case that, in a work in which so many will know a definitive, unmatchable recording, strong theatrical values become more necessary than ever.

After a shaky start, including that of Ariadne herself, the Opera was better. Where, in the Prologue, the absence of Nathalie Dessay, promised as Zerbinetta, had been keenly felt, not least in the aforementioned lack of theatrical values, here Daniela Fally came into her own. Despite a few minor – and utterly forgivable – slips, her ‘Großmächtige Prinzessin’ was duly showstopping; perhaps the twin trials of the shadow of Dessay and Fally’s own nerves had now left her alone. By the time of ‘Es gibt ein Reich…,’ Adrianne Pieczonka’s voice had strengthened. She went on to give a good, if something short of deeply memorable, performance. Adrian Eröd shone as Harlequin, dashing in both figure and voice. Zerbinetta’s other companions were nothing out of the ordinary. Likewise, Lance Ryan’s Bacchus coped with Strauss’s cruel demands, but did little else to imprint itself upon one’s memory. The setting, once again very much ‘traditional’, was effective enough; it is, after all, an evocation of the moribund world of opera seria. Orchestra and conductor sounded on much better form, with the missing depth now found. The woodwind bubbling reminded one of Mozart, and the strings were their usual beautiful selves. It could not be claimed that Haider’s direction was on a par with Pappano, let alone Colin Davis in the Covent Garden revival, whilst Karajan’s was simply the air of another planet, but at least it did not let the side down as it had during the Prologue.