New York Times, 1 August 2012
Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, Salzburger Festspiele, 29. Juli 2012
Summer Is a Word for Opera in Salzburg
Mozart, Strauss and Friends, an Austrian Seasonal Tradition
.... Pereira’s policy, by taking the pressure off any individual production to have to stand up for several years, may have encouraged greater experimentation.

This was especially true of “Ariadne,” directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival’s new director of drama. As it is, Strauss’s opera is a play within a play. A Prologue shows the manic backstage preparations for the presentation of a high-flown opera and a bawdy comedy in the home of an aristocrat. The Opera itself follows, made farcical by the decision to combine the two works for reasons of time.

But the Prologue was new in 1916, when “Ariadne” was revived in Vienna. At the work’s premiere in 1912, in Stuttgart, the Opera followed a play, a two-act German version of Molière’s “Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” adapted by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Strauss’s librettist (and his collaborator in founding the Salzburg Festival in 1920).

Mr. Bechtolf reverts to the 1912 version, more or less. He has added layers upon layers, incorporating Hofmannsthal as a character in a mini-drama about the making of “Ariadne auf Naxos,” woven through the play and the Opera. Hofmannsthal interacts with Ottonie, a character based on a young countess with whom the real Hofmannsthal had a romantic relationship, Ottonie von Degenfeld-Schonburg, who is said to be the inspiration and model for Ariadne.

It is a clever conceit, almost too clever, but carried through well in both the text and the staging. And the juxtaposition of the play (with Strauss’s incidental music, now better known from a suite under the German title “Der Bürger als Edelmann”) and the Opera is fascinating. But it does make for a long and complex evening, as 1912 audiences acknowledged with boos. There were none here, least of all for the singers. Jonas Kaufmann was spectacular as Bacchus, growing improbably stronger as his relatively brief stint progressed. Emily Magee was scarcely less impressive in the demanding longer role of Ariadne. And Elena Mosuc managed Zerbinetta’s vocal pyrotechnics with aplomb if she didn’t quite catch all of her impertinent charm.....


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