Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos, 1916

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Synopsis,   Libretto , The myth  History of the opera Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle in rehearsal with James Levine.

Friday September 15th

The librettist and the composer

After Elektra and Rosenkavalier, (Greek tragedy and sweet Viennese life) Hofmannsthal conceived Ariadne. He wrote to Strauss: Let me try and explain in a few sentences the underlying idea or meaning of this little poetic work. What it is about is one of the straightforward and stupendous problems of life: fidelity...  We have the group of heroes, demi -gods, gods –  Ariadne, Bacchus (Theseus) –  facing the human, the merely human group consisting of the frivolous Zerbinetta and her companions, all of them base figures in life’s masquerade.  Zerbinetta is in her element drifting out of the arms of one man into the arms of another; Ariadne could be the wife or mistress of one man only, just as she can be only one man's widow, can be forsaken only by one man. One thing, however, is still left even for her: the miracle, the God. To him she gives herself, for she believes him to be Death: he is both Death and Life at once; he it is ... who preserves her for us and at the same time transforms her…  And
Titian, Bacchus meets Ariadne. Link
so these two spiritual worlds are in the end ironically brought together in the only way in which they can be brought together: in non- comprehension.  Download this excellent article about the mythology, commedia dell’arte, the collaboration, its music, its meaning, its weaving of centuries of operatic tradition: a work that questions, critiques, parodies, and ultimately justifies the existence of opera.

Opera in transition

Richard Strauss was an easy-going fellow with a great sense of humor who liked playing cards. His music, the overripe fruit of Late Romanticism, is anything but easy-going. It can be eerie, noisy, and disgusting; erotic, tempestuous, and achingly beautiful; and also refined, humorous, even sublime.… When his career began, he was an upstart, a radical, and a dangerous subversive; when he died, he was the grand old man of classical music, the last composer carrying the age-old torch of tonality. (Seattle Opera) The Guardian’s essay on the opera: Ariadne combines in one work opera buffa (complete with commedia dell'arte), and opera seria. It also marks Strauss's conversion of Mozartian recitativo secco into the continuously melodic conversational style that he had begun to develop in Der Rosenkavalier and would perfect a few years later in Intermezzo. And it’s very small scale. For Elektra, he wrote for an orchestra of 111 – Ariadne is written for 35. Finally a cynical note from The Spectator: He came at the wrong time in the history of music, when gargantuanism was encouraged, whereas his gifts are most manifest in pieces of modest dimensions that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Our Production

Ariadne - Renée Fleming, Composer - Sophie Koch, Bacchus - Robert Dean Smith, Zerbinetta - Jane Archibald. Staatskapelle Dresden cond. Christian Thielemann. Review