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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60 (1912)
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; Romuald 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
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, September and December 2000. DDD
Booklet includes essay, synopsis and track-listing
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9084 [71:12 + 50.39]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Why does a recording reappear on a super-budget label? Sometimes the original company is sold or liquidated, so Stuart Bedford’s Britten operas for Collins Classics reappeared on Naxos. One the other hand quality or sales can be an issue. Does this explain why Decca’s Dohnanyi/Vienna Philharmonic Fidelio was licensed to Brilliant Classics? Moreover licensing may no longer be an issue at all. When Callas’s 1953 Tosca fell out of European copyright it popped up on Naxos, Brilliant Classics, Regis and others. But Deutsche Grammophon’s 2000 Ariadne auf Naxos from Dresden? I shake my head in bafflement, envious of collectors who can snaffle this set on Brilliant Classics for £7. The price somehow feels inappropriate in light of the talent and artistry involved.

The star-studded cast is headed by Ben Heppner, Deborah Voigt, Anne Sofie von Otter and Natalie Dessay. Yes, you read that right: a super-budget re-release with Heppner, Voigt, von Otter and Dessay. Voigt’s Ariadne is all beautifully poised clean steel with utterly clear and natural diction. Her rich lower register at the start of ‘Es gibt ein Reich’ builds towards a seemingly effortless top B flat. Only a slight tremulous quality mars a classic portrayal. Heppner complements his on-disc lover with a similarly ringing world-class heldentenor of rich mahogany. However, as with Voigt, Heppner is also not ideally steady and a slow vibrato intermittently creeps in. Von Otter is a forthright and impassioned Composer. The wide-eyed singing that does not always convince in her recital CDs is perfect for the young headstrong idealist. Dessay not only performs stunning vocal acrobatics but injects womanly, even sexy, warmth. No suggestion of pinched, white-voiced coloratura here. Dessay almost convinces that the booklet essay is right in the astonishing assertion that “[e]ven now, when it is to be heard frequently in all the world’s major houses, it is clear that [Ariadne auf Naxos’s] popularity is due almost entirely to the jaw-dropping virtuoso display piece Grossmächtige Prinzessin …”.

And the Staatskapelle Dresden are hardly cause for super-budget relegation. Their tonal palette is characterised by transparency, clear delineation and warm mellow colours. DG’s engineering is full and spacious, seemingly more natural than EMI’s multi-miked and closer-balanced Kempe recording with the same orchestra. As Sinopoli’s singers are better integrated within the orchestral texture all Strauss’ voices, both instrumental and vocal, blend and flow beautifully.

So is Giuseppe Sinopoli the reason why this Ariadne was re-licensed? This was Sinopoli’s last opera recording before his fatal heart-attack during an Act III Aida in Berlin. The original DG issue was dedicated to his memory. Sinopoli’s career was controversial, particularly before he decamped from London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, following scathing reviews, to Dresden. Yet Staatskapelle Dresden players wept when they heard of Sinopoli’s death and there are numerous diamonds in the rough of Sinopoli’s recorded legacy. Yes, a BBC Radio 3 Building a Library review of Ariadne may raise questions. Why does Sinopoli change the pulse here? Why slow there? The Prelude overture, for instance, keeps to a more unified pulse under Böhm and Kempe. Yet I enjoyed Sinopoli's vision of the work. It is colouristic with attention being paid to details; yet there is drama and sweep here too. The famous Composer’s aria has the necessary escalation of tension and Ariadne’s Lament is beautifully elliptical, the opening lines being movingly sustained. A theme in Strauss’s charming opera is the relationship between opera and operetta. Which is superior? Strauss’s music leaves no doubt about his conclusions and Sinopoli shows the courage of these convictions with a deep and sustained upsweep in the transcendent final duet.

If Sinopoli’s Ariadne has a weakness it is one shared with studio sets conducted by Masur (Philips), Levine (DG), Kempe and Karajan (both EMI). They all lack the theatrical urgency, magic and smell of grease paint so joyously evident in the live 1944 Böhm Vienna broadcast (Preiser), recorded in the presence of the composer for his 80th birthday celebrations. Listen to Seefried's highly-strung Composer as the curtain threatens to rise at the end of the Prelude. Max Lorenz is more ardent and abandoned than Heppner. Heppner certainly sings out the cruelly high-lying final lines with power and style but Lorenz injects sheer bravado. The terrific Maria Reining is creamy, with thrilling attack, sometimes slightly ahead of the notes in the passion of the duet and Lament. Voigt’s Primadonna/Ariadne is comparably more sung out than lived. Luckily the 1944 broadcast sound is surprisingly firm and full with excellent bass.

Sinopoli and Böhm shine light on Ariadne auf Naxos in their different ways. Buy both but there is no doubt which I’d take to my desert, or rather Greek, island. Reining and Lorenz soar into Strauss heaven singing the most ecstatic final duet I've heard as Böhm propels and anchors the climax with thrilling power. No wonder Strauss was moved to tears.

David Harbin

 


 




 


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