Saturday 19 July 2014

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera, 13 July 2014

Royal Opera House

Music Master – Sir Thomas Allen
Major-Domo - Christoph Guest
Lackey – Jihoon Kim
Officer – David Butt Philip
Composer – Ruxandra Donose
Tenor, Bacchus – Roberto Saccà
Wig-Maker – Ashley Riches
Zerbinetta – Jane Archibald
Prima Donna, Ariadne – Karita Mattila
Dancing Master – Ed Lyon
Naiad – Sofia Fomina
Dryad – Karen Cargill
Echo – Kiandra Howarth
Harlequin – Markus Werba
Truffaldino – Jeremy White
Scaramuccio – Wynne Evans
Brighella – Paul Schweinester

Christof Loy (director)
Herbert Murauer (designs)
Jennifer Lipton (lighting)
Beate Vollack (choreography)

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor)

I hope I shall be forgiven for keeping this relatively brief. Having been distinctly under the weather this week, I have fallen a little behind, and in any case have written about Christof Loy’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos before. This time, hearteningly, I recaptured some of my earlier enthusiasm, having found the staging looking somewhat tired last time around. Perhaps it was a matter of the revival direction, or perhaps it was a matter of sitting closer to the stage (the back of the Stalls Circle, the restricted view seemingly not much of an issue). At any rate, the virtues that I had originally hymned – a very real sense of the audience and the audience member being told that this was a tale told about them, a nice balance between the present and a re-imagined and then re-imagined again eighteenth century – were married to a well-acted company performance.

For the most part the singing was very good too. Thomas Allen’s Music Master continues to inspire; this time, he found a fine foil in Ed Lyon’s Dancing Master, his German as impressive as the French of the repertory in which I have previously tended to hear him. Both can act too – and did. Ruxandra Donose’s Composer was beautifully sung – and a character in whom one could truly believe, whom one could take to one’s heart. I am not sure that I have heard so distinguished a trio of Naiad, Dryad, and Echo, as Sofia Fomina, Karen Cargill, and Kiandra Howarth, whether corporately or individually. Markus Werba offered a predictably excellent Harlequin, well supported by the rest of his troupe. Jane Archibald reached for the heights and attained them with her lovely Zerbinetta: an object-lesson in the role. Disappointments? Roberto Saccà’s dry-toned Bacchus, fare more so than I had heard in Salzburg in 2012. And, I am afraid that, try as I might, I could not find Karita Mattila ‘right’ for the role of Ariadne. She is a wonderfully engaging artist, and there was much to enjoy, but I missed the floating of line that seems essential to the part, likewise the neo-Mozartian grace. Others have clearly felt differently, and I have tried not to be hidebound by recollections of great historic assumptions; ultimately, however, and with considerable regret, I thought Mattila miscast.

The other disappointment, perhaps more predictably, was Antonio Pappano’s conducting. Quite why he insists on inflicting himself upon a German repertoire for which he clearly has little sensitivity, let alone understanding, remains a mystery. Granted, this was not nearly so bad as his Wagner, and there was considerable life to the Prologue. However, the Opera soon became listless, with little sense of harmonic or indeed any other direction. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House played very well, but how one longed for the wisdom, refinement, wit, and humanity the late Colin Davis brought to this work in this production.