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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos
Ariadne/Prima Donna – Soile Isokoski
Zerbinetta – Laura Claycomb
Bacchus/Tenor – Sergey Skorokhodov
Composer – Kate Lindsey
Music Master – Thomas Allen
Harlequin – Dmitri Vargin
Echo – Gabriela Iştoc
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
Katharina Thoma (director)
rec. live, Glyndebourne, June 2013
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; LPCM Stereo; DTS 5.1
OPUS ARTE OA1135D DVD [121:00 + 21:00]

This Ariadne was Vladimir Jurowski’s final production as Music Director of Glyndebourne, and he does a brilliant job with his chamber orchestra of musicians. I thought he rushed the entry of Bacchus, but beyond that his tempi are just right and, more importantly, he controls the orchestral sound very successfully. He breeds delicacy and transparency in so much of the score, while releasing wave upon wave of richness in the final ten minutes. His contribution is a triumph.

Despite his polite words, I wonder what he must have thought of the production as he watched it from the pit? Katharina Thoma sets the piece in a stately home that has been pressed into service during the Second World War. Her updating is so ham-fisted and half-assed that I was ignoring it and focusing on the singing by half-way through. In one sense it looks like a hospital for injured RAF pilots, but it contains women and also people — including the bewildered composer and Ariadne herself — suffering from psychiatric problems. The three nymphs are nurses and Bacchus is a heroic pilot, while Zerbinetta and the comedians are visiting entertainers from ENSA: the Entertainments National Service Association, set up in 1939 to entertain the forces. This attempt at gritty realism undermines the opera’s fantastical context and makes earthy the universal themes of Hofmannsthal’s mythology. Nor is it particularly well thought out. The Prologue appears to be set in the same place but there is, so far as I can see, very little correlation with the characters of the Prologue and those of the Opera. This is despite the protestations of the booklet note and the extra film that all the characters are realising the importance of reality. There is an air raid at the end of the Prologue, for example, but I didn’t buy what they were trying to do. Don’t ask me what was going on during Zerbinetta’s aria or the ensuing scene with the comedians.

The singing makes up for it to a degree, but not unequivocally. Most singularly successful is Kate Lindsey, who portrays the composer as a creature who is a slave to his passions and emotions. She plays him brilliantly as a wide-eyed innocent who is prey to the twists and turns of those around him, and sings with beautiful quality of tone to go with it. Soile Isokoski is a very good Ariadne, but her voice lacked that final degree of ease and refulgence on top that I’ve heard in her Marschallin. She is still very good indeed, but maybe it’s a role she’s just less comfortable with. Laura Claycomb sings Zerbinetta’s aria perfectly well, but in the Prologue she comes across as a little shrill, and she cannot suggest Zerbinetta’s hidden depths in the scene with the composer. After a rather formulaic start, Sergey Skorokhodov grows into the devilish part of Bacchus. His contribution really helps the final ten minutes to take off, bringing the fiendish tessitura to glowing life. Elsewhere, Thomas Allen puts in a good turn as the Music Master, and is honoured with a short extra film to go with it. The comedians sound good, with a rugged, sexy-sounding Harlequin from Dmitri Vargin. The three nymphs are strong too, with an especially beautiful Echo from Gabriela Iştoc.

So this DVD will do, but it’s not up there with the two finest ones, both of which come from the New York Met. Especially good is the second one featuring Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay, and that’s still the one to go for. The best sounding Ariadne of all, with due respect to Karajan and Kempe, is still Sinopoli’s Dresden CD, also featuring Voigt and Dessay, but with the benefit of the best sounding Bacchus on disc from Ben Heppner. If you don’t need visuals, that’s still the one to go for and, last time I looked, it was going for a song on Brilliant Classics, though without a libretto.

Simon Thompson