Photos Jeff Busby
With Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos the Victorian Opera Company continues to expose Victorians to the vast range and scope of the extant operatic repertoire.
Ariadne auf Naxos is an opera within an opera, the first act a very wordy prologue to the performance of the opera in the second act.
Two performance troupes, a band of commedia dell’arte and an opera company, are preparing to entertain dinner guests for Major Domo’s party when it is announced, against the composer’s wishes, that the two performances must take place simultaneously to allow time for the fireworks.
The plot has all the drama and commotion you could ever wish for in an opera, but without strong direction from James McCaughey, the wordy prologue was very confusing and hard to follow. The stage seemed cluttered, with everything happening all at once. There needed to be a greater contrast between the reality of the backstage preparations and commotion, and the on-stage dramatic performance in the second act. As the Composer, Jacqueline Dark was the highlight of the prologue, her rich resonant voice cutting through the confusion and commanding attention.
The second act was much more engaging, the overture highlighting the skill of Orchestra Victoria under Richard Gill. The beautiful liquid harmonies of the trio of nymphs (Melanie Adams, Roxane Hislop, Jessica Aszodi) set the tone for much of the second half, the performers much more comfortable and at home within the opera in the opera.
As Ariadne, Elizabeth Stannard’s performance was simple and understated, providing a much-needed respite from the over dramatic caricatures of the prologue. Stannard caressed her phrases and her character with a beautiful lyrical legato. However, as Zerbinetta, Theresa Borg lacked the sass and saucy spirit needed for the commedia coquette. In Zerbinetta’s famous show-stopping aria, Grossmächtige Prinzessin, Borg lacked the technical precision needed for the fiendishly difficult coloratura.
Victorian Opera’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a bold and exciting production which, despite its failings, is a success for its pushing of the boundaries of Victorian operatic performance.
Victorian Opera presents
Ariadne auf Naxos
by Richard Strauss
Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: 21 - 27 July 2009