Financial Times, 1. August 2012
By Laura Battle
Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, Salzburger Festspiele, 29. Juli 2012
Ariadne auf Naxos, Salzburg Festival
Restored Strauss, early Mozart and late Schubert provided two highly rewarding festival evenings
It is 100 years since the disastrous premiere of Ariadne auf Naxos. The third collaboration between Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, which attempted to pair an adaptation of Molière’s play Le bourgeois gentilhomme with a new opera based on the Ariadne myth, was considered by its first night audience to be convoluted and overly long.

The piece only found success after the play was dropped in favour of a shorter operatic prelude, so Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s plan to restore the original for this year’s Salzburg Festival seemed brave – and his decision to add yet another layer to the narrative, quite reckless.

Inspiration came from the real-life drama that played out during the opera’s gestation: the flourishing friendship between Hofmannsthal and the recently widowed Ottonie von Degenfeld-Schonburg. Here Bechtolf imagines them into the fictional narrative: the couple blend into the action on stage as participants and observers, introducing the spoken comedy and then responding to the opera as Ariadne’s journey from grief to new love prompts Ottonie’s own awakening.

The result is sublime, if occasionally ridiculous, and it won over this critic. Cornelius Obonya plays Molière’s foolish Monsieur Jourdain with panache and the drama is enlivened by dance interludes that range from tight ballet movement to rowdy slapstick. Meanwhile, Rolf Glittenberg’s elegant set designs provide a steadying backdrop for each stage of the play-within-a-play-within-a-play-within-a-play.

It is testament to Emily Magee’s performance as Ariadne that the opera’s thick layers of artifice appear to melt away during her big moments, but she is ultimately upstaged by Jonas Kaufmann – virile, brooding and in magnificent voice – as Bacchus. And the first night audience went wild for Elena Mosuc’s sparkling Zerbinetta. Daniel Harding (replacing Riccardo Chailly) conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in an account that, from the sparser sections of instrumentation through to the opera’s great climax, is at once taut and exuberant.


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