Strauss-Hofmannsthal, Ariadne auf Naxos. Theater an der Wien, 14/10/10. New production by Harry Kupfer, sets by Hans Schavernoch, costumes by Yan Tax lights by Hans Toelstede. ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien conducted by Bertrand de Billy with Anne Schwanewilms (Ariadne), Mari Eriksmoen (Zerbinetta), Heidi Brunner (Komponist), Johan Botha (Bacchus), Nikolay Borchev (Harlekin), Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Musiklehrer)This production sure is colorful. Literally. The female party guests get bright red and the commedia dell’arte characters look like they’ve been assaulted by someone wielding a confetti gun. And the Glitter Fairy threw up on them, too. The set isn’t large but its industrial look isn’t quite minimal or monochromatic either, and sometimes we have video projections too. It looks awesome, but it’s very, very busy. The tasteless desert island set is a small roped-off square in the middle of the hangar space, filled with broken-off statue bits of wings, I assume representing Ariadne’s condition but also the opera seria’s antiquated, museum-like place in a world of space shuttles and clutter.
The Opera features a lot of milling-about by the supernumerary party guests, who are considerably more interested in Zerbinetta than Ariadne. Occasionally TVs showing stock reports appear. Ariadne languishes on her broken wings almost unnoticed, her isolation becoming the abandoned state of high art in modern culture. Bacchus, wearing a tux and waving a hanky, is the commodified form of culture for the masses, giving us effortless tenorial thrills and similarly uninterested in Ariadne--he ends up with Zerbinetta. Ariadne, confusingly, ends up with Harlekin, joining the modern world at last. I guess?
You can’t deny that Kupfer has a point of view, but I’m too much of an idealist, and I like Strauss’s music too much, to go along with it. In this production, high culture doesn’t seem to be something worth saving. While I can understand putting Ariadne in the background as an interpretive decision, it and the confusing finale undermine too much of the music without making a good point in return. The party guests don’t give Ariadne a chance, but Kupfer doesn’t give her one either. It’s easy to show superficial rich people ignoring culture, but what’s the point? The guests appreciate Zerbinetta and company, of course, but the troupe’s antics are too sweet and harmless to have any kind of satiric bite in this context.
Mari Eriksmoen was plucked out of obscurity to replace post-partum Diana Damrau as Zerbinetta. She gave a competent account of the role with confidence, stamina, good diction, and good intonation, but the voice itself is small and colorless, and she didn’t even try the trill on the high D. She does have great stage presence, though, and her modern, no-nonsense Zerbinetta never lapsed into cutesy. I suspect the enormous applause at the end had something to do with the general Viennese fondness for women who are young and skinny, though.
Johan Botha was unquestionably the musical highlight of the evening with an effortlessly sung Bacchus with his usual clear, light but incredibly powerful tone. He sounds like he could sing this in his sleep, and I can’t imagine anyone sounding better in this role today. He was a good sport embodying the multitude of tenor clichés handed to him by Kupfer--yes, including that hanky--but still, the guy can't really act. Interesting work-around, I suppose.
I do like Zerbinetta's yellow and green striped tights, though. If you tell me where I can get some of those I would wear the heck out of them in all sorts of inappropriate contexts. Proof that I really did choose the right blog name here, I guess.
I think I’m alone in not liking this one too much. If you would like to read a more ecstatic review you can start with the two major Viennese newspapers, Der Standard and Die Presse. There are three more performances, on October 17, 20, and 22. It is not sold out and the standing room line was remarkably low key.
Photos copyright Werner Kmetitsch/Theater an der Wien
Next: Mass in B minor at the Musikverein with Harnoncourt tonight.