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R.Strauss:Ariadne Auf Naxos (Sub Ac3 Dol Dts) [DVD] [Import]
Richard Strauss痴 Ariadne auf Naxos premiered in 1916, was something new, a startling blend of comedy and tragedy, both a frothy entertainment and a serious dip into the big issues--life, death, art, and love. It succeeds as a musical and theatre experience, especially in a production as respectful of the composer痴 intentions as this one, which more than fulfills his considerable musical demands on the performers. Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, fuse the tale of an opera company and a team of comedians hired to provide entertainment for a dinner party at the palatial home of Vienna痴 "richest man." The two groups of artists are forced at the last moment to combine their incompatible talents in a hastily rewritten opera which follows the Prologue--the familiar story of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus on the Greek island. This DVD of Ariadne is a 1978 film based on Filippo Sanjust痴 Vienna State Opera production. The bustling Prologue is set in the backstage area of the mogul痴 palace and the 18th century costumes fit neatly. In the opera proper, the stage is transformed into a very stagey desert island with an improbable set of stairs leading to the heroine痴 cave, the action spilling over into the theatre痴 side boxes at times. While there痴 nothing particularly imaginative about the production, it never distracts from the main event--the music. Strauss was profligate in his melodic gifts, his ability to make a reduced orchestra sound big, and his wonderful obsession with the female voice, which yields many glorious moments in the opera. Lavish casting helps.
Gundula Janowitz is the prima donna who sings the title role, her fresh voice and musicality make her lament moving, but the coloratura soprano, Edita Gruberova, all but steals the show as Zerbinetta, providing both singing and acting splendor. Her coloratura is flawless, the trills in the aria "Grossm臘htige Prinzessin," effortless. The harassed Composer, seen only in the Prologue, is Trudeliese Schmidt, whose singing is first-rate and whose acting in the pants role suits the part admirably, the veritable archetype of the ardent, impetuous artist. Among the men, veteran Walter Berry is a fine Musicmaster, the voice of reason amid all the madcap goings-on, while the comedians are a feisty bunch with good voices. Special mention is due baritone Barry McDaniel痴 Harlequin and lyric tenor Heinz Zednik痴 Dancing Master (in the Prologue) and Brighella. The role of Bacchus is a thankless part and if Ren� Kollo is sometimes stiff and blustery, so too, are most tenors in that role. Pacing and orchestral playing could not be bettered as the Vienna Philharmonic is led by the great Strauss conductor, Karl B�hm. John Vernon痴 video direction is efficient, but his discreet use of fades and tight closeups may strike some as too much of a good thing. Filmed to a prerecorded soundtrack, lip-synching is smoothly done. There痴 a fine 1988 MET production led by James Levine with Jessye Norman and a similarly starry cast, but you can稚 go wrong with either--or both--of these versions of Strauss痴 opera. -- Dan Davis
Ariadne auf Naxos is an all-regions DVD in color and 4:3 ratio. Sound options include PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround. Sung in German with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Chinese.
Edita Gruberova turns in the performance of a lifetime, as the epitome of a coquettish Zerbinetta. Her "Grossmachtige Prinzessin" by itself is something you will want to share with friends, to show them the virtuosity of a truly great singer. As a crowning glory to this famous aria, our flirty Zerbinetta effortlessly ascends to the very highest notes--Get this!--as she powders her face. Spectacularly, it displays both Gruberova's incomparable singing abilities, and her perfectly complementary acting abilities.
The "harlequin group" also displays joyful singing and acting that make them absolutely lovable.
So could anything make this even better? Yes, the tempi and conducting interpretation seem to me to be just as Strauss would have enjoyed hearing them. The hauntingly and ethereally beautiful "Tone, tone, susse Stimme" sung by the nymphs is sung with sufficient volume to be more appreciated. Every other performance seems to make that passage a bit too soft. It's too beautiful not to be properly heard! So why was this conductor able to turn up the volume on it? I think it's because the conductor, Karl Bohm, advanced in age as he was here, had actually worked alongside Richard Strauss. He knew what Strauss expected, and the result is that we can hear it Strauss's way. It's superb, exquisite, and sublime. Oh, and in Zerbinetta's final scene, she winks to us, at precisely the right moment--icing on a delicious cake.
I would have preferred a live performance to a film, but since that isn't possible what DGG have given us is not to be dismissed. The lipsynching is better than most DVD's that utilize this technique. In any event there are more closeups than most opera DVDs. The production is traditional without a whiff of Regietheatre. The colors glow and give off a richness that is appropriate--house of the richest man in Vienna! Janowitz is peerless; it was her role for many years and deservedly so. Trudelise Schmidt is not a name widely know in this country. If I can't have a Seefried or Jurinac I will accept Ms.Schmidt with no qualifications; her top is radiant and open. Reme Kollo is more problematic. He can sing with great nuance and sensitivity but he is also guilty of loud and/or vulgar singing. Damming with faint praise, the role is not long. Gruberova fan will not be disappointed. I wish I could write more favorably about her since she clearly has owned the role for many years. I suspect that hers is a voice that sounds better in the theatre than on discs, but there is no gainsaying that she is totally unfazed with the difficulties of the role and dispatches them with panache,
The competition is not great; the Met's production is a mixed bag. A black and while production from Salzburg boasts one of the great singers of the century, Sena Jurinac. Alas the Ariadne is close to disaster. Hillebrecht's career is one of the great mysteries.A production from Germany (Dresden?) is a Konzept that will not endear many viewers and the singing is good enough to overlook many of the dramatic faux pas. A new recording from Zurich is on the way and while the cast is somewhat problematic this new DGG release would be my choice if one only has room for one Ariadne.