Ariadne Auf Naxos
- Carol Main
- 27 August 2021
Lothar Koenigs conducts an effervescent RSNO for the International Festival's take on Strauss' complex opera
Richard Strauss' Ariadne Auf Naxos isn't exactly the most straightforward of operas. Two sets of performers are clashing as the billed entertainment for a high-society Viennese banquet. One group of musicians is about to premiere a very serious new opera – Ariadne Auf Naxos – and the other is a troupe of commedia dell'arte performers who want to make sure the guests don't choke on their dinner. Strauss' gentle take on the age-old high art versus entertainment dilemma in turn highlighted another quandary for opera at the Edinburgh Academy Junior School: namely concert performance versus fully staged performance. Described in the Festival programme as the former, it was, however, something in-between.
With stripped-back stage direction by rapidly rising young star Louisa Muller, not only did the potential muddle of two shows happening at once take on a clarity that doesn't always materialise on the operatic stage, but the relationships across the principal characters emerged with fresh focus and perspective. From a specially selected cast, there were outstanding voices all round. First off was Martin Gantner's richly toned Music Master, alongside Ariadne played by dramatic German soprano Dorothea Röschmann, and Scottish mezzo-soprano Catriona Morison's exceptionally powerful singing in the role of the Composer.
Zerbinetta's high-wire vocal gymnastics were brilliantly dispatched by American coloratura Brenda Rae while David Butt Philip as Bacchus was a deeply passionate saviour for the abandoned Ariadne, left alone on the island of Naxos mourning the disappearance of her lover. With conductor Lothar Koenigs stepping in for an indisposed Sir Andrew Davis, the RSNO were flying on top form. The joie de vivre embedded in Strauss' score was there right from the start with Koenigs' brisk tempo and the orchestra's gorgeously lush and effervescent sound.
Ariadne Auf Naxos, Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Friday 27, Sunday 29 August, 7.30pm, £35–£40 (£24.50–£28); the performance is online at eif.co.uk/at-home, Sunday 29 August–Sunday 27 February.