> Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos Sinopoli [CC]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos.

Deborah Voigt (soprano) Ariadne/Primadonna; Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo) Composer; Natalie Dessay (soprano) Zerbinetta; Ben Heppner (tenor) Tenor, Bacchus; Albert Dohmen (bass-baritone) Music Master; Romauld Pekny (bass) Major-domo; Stephan Genz (baritone) Harlekin; Christiane Hossfeld (soprano) Naiad; Angela Liebold (mezzo) Dryad; Eva Kirchner (soprano) Echo; Michael Howard (tenor) Dancing Master; Sami Luttinen (bass) Truffaldino; Christoph Genz (tenor) Brighella; Ian Thompson (tenor) Scaramuccio; Romuald Pekny (narrator) Major-Domo; Jürgen Commichau (bass) Footman; Matthias Henneberg (tenor) Wig-Maker; Klaus Florian Vogt (tenor) Officer; Staatskapelle Dresden/Giuseppe Sinopoli.
Recorded in the Lukaskirche, Dresden in September and December 2000.
DG 471 323-2[two discs] [122.01]


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Billed by DG as Giuseppe Sinopoli’s last opera recording, this star-clad Ariadne acts as a reminder of all the strengths of this cruelly-underrated conductor/composer (underrated in the UK, at least). Here, in sound, is surely the best way to remember him. In his elucidation of textures and his inspiration of both singers and orchestra to give their all, there can be few finer testaments to his achievements.

Here is a case of star singers gelling together to make a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. Ariadne is notoriously difficult to bring off, but when it succeeds it impresses as one of Strauss’s greatest post-Rosenkavalier achievements. True, there is an element of compositional braggery in the virtuoso combination of the Commedia dell’arte Prologue and the more Wagner-influenced mythology of the opera proper (or of opera buffa and opera seria, if you prefer), but one is so engrossed in the experience one can only emerge breathless with admiration. To succeed as a performance (particularly on disc, shorn of any visual ‘props’), the threads have to be brought together by a master. Sinopoli joins the pantheon of the greatest interpreters on disc of this piece, without in the final analysis earning an outright recommendation.

The presence of members of the Dresden Staatskapelle is no mean bonus, for this was Strauss’ ‘favoured’ orchestra (he referred to them as his ‘beloved Dresdeners’: the Alpine Symphony is dedicated to them). Although this orchestra did not premiere Ariadne (that privilege went to Stuttgart), Dresden’s Semper Oper was the second venue to present it, in November 1912.

Strauss’s chamber-like textures would seem almost to have been written with Sinopoli’s X-Ray deconstructionist vision in mind. Sometimes this approach could lead to controversial results, but this is far from the case in the present instance: listen to the Overture to the opera proper and you will hear a meltingly beautiful performance, fully evocative of a mythological time past, yet at the same time fully and unmistakably Straussian. The conductor’s tempi are consistently convincing, the orchestra always beautiful in tone and shifts of mood are positively chameleon-like in response to Strauss’ mood shifts.

Of course the two major roles of Ariadne (Primadonna in the Prologue) and Bacchus/Tenor are crucial. Deborah Voigt (the former) has extensive experience in Strauss and Wagner, and it shows. Her ‘Es gibt ein Reich’ is given with the sincere authority of the deepest grief, and she is superb in the final love scene with Bacchus. Bacchus enters late in the opera and, when he does, has a cruel part to contend with. Ben Heppner copes well with the high and mobile part, without being fully the expressive equal to his Ariadne. If he is less involving than Voigt, it is not so much as to detract from the experience: the whole passage is imbued from the pit with tenderness. Indeed, it is Sinopoli and the Dresdeners who carry the final moments. At the very end, Heppner does raise his game to match his colleagues; Voigt is quite simply resplendent.

Natalie Dessay makes an appearance courtesy of EMI Classics as Zerbinetta to give a stunning ‘Grossmächtige Prinzessin’ (it is hard not to break into spontaneous applause, even sitting at home!). Dessay acts with her voice, whilst Sinopoli’s completely natural pacing means that Zerbinetta’s scales and filigree emerge as perfectly judged. This is Strauss singing of the highest calibre, as is the coquettish contribution of Anne Sophie von Otter’s Composer (complete with exemplary pitching).

Of the more minor, roles, Stephan Genz gives a noteworthy, affectionate account of Harlekin’s song. The offstage trio of Naiad, Echo and Daiad accompanying Ariadne’s penultimate statements is perfectly balanced.

Certainly this is a major addition to the Strauss discography, and a most distinguished exit from the recorded vaults of opera for Sinopoli. Keep it alongside Karajan’s 1954 mono EMI performance (now on EMI Great Recordings of the Century CMS5 67077-2), itself a magnificent achievement with the Philharmonia Orchestra and a classic cast including Rita Streich as Zerbinetta, Rudolf Schock as Bacchus and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Ariadne. Kempe on EMI (CMS7 64159-2) is the other alternative, with Gundula Janowitz as Ariadne. Perhaps Masur should also make an appearance on the ideal Ariadne-shelf: another superb cast, headed this time by the resplendent Jessye Norman in the title role (Philips 422 084-2).

Colin Clarke

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