Bloomberg, Aug 6, 2012
By Catherine Hickley
Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, Salzburger Festspiele, 29. Juli 2012
Jonas Kaufmann Sports Leopard-Print Gold Suit as Bacchus
With ballet, fencing and buffoonery as well as the star tenor Jonas Kaufmann in a ghastly gold leopard-print suit, Richard Strauss’s opera “Ariadne auf Naxos” at the Salzburg Festival has something for everyone.

The audience loved it, chortling at the farce and breaking into applause after Elena Mosuc’s mischievously coquettish, impressively accurate rendering of Zerbinetta’s “Grossmaechtige Prinzessin” (Great Princess). One of the trickiest arias for coloratura soprano ever written is sung by Mosuc in a red pompom skirt accompanied by lots of pert eyelash-fluttering.

The production by Salzburg’s newly appointed director of drama Sven-Eric Bechtolf bravely revives the first version of the hybrid play-opera, which premiered in Stuttgart in 1912 and was a horrendous flop -- partly because King Karl of Wuerttemberg insisted on a big reception between the acts that lengthened the whole evening beyond the audience’s endurance.

“Ariadne auf Naxos” is in two halves. The first part is a play based on Moliere’s “Le bourgeois gentilhomme.” The nouveau riche buffoon Monsieur Jourdain is trying to impress a young widow by staging an opera at his home, then insists that it is rolled together with Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe’s act and ends promptly to leave time for a firework display.
Diverting Clownery

This play part, later abridged by Hugo von Hofmannsthal to a prologue, is performed in Salzburg in full, set in the elegant drawing-room of a stately home with leafy woods beyond tall windows. The clownery, initially diverting, wore thin before the end of Act One.

Act Two is the play-within-the-play -- the grief-stricken Ariadne’s love-at-first-sight meeting with the young god Bacchus, accompanied by Zerbinetta and her gang of clowns.

Bechtolf adds yet another layer by including Von Hofmannsthal into the mix. While he was working on “Ariadne,” the librettist met a young, inconsolably grieving widow with whom he corresponded the rest of his life.

The staging opens with Hofmannsthal trying to persuade the widow that she must love again. The two remain on stage throughout, watching the proceedings. Instead of complicating the work, it actually adds coherence to the whole by creating a frame for the opera’s themes of fidelity and love.

Kaufmann, who has had to cancel performances this summer because of a lingering infection, was back in excellent form in Salzburg, rolling on stage in a rather ungainly clinch with Emily Magee as Ariadne. Daniel Harding, standing in for Riccardo Chailly, conducted the Vienna Philharmonic with a light, transparent touch.


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