Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Opera review: Ariadne auf Naxos

Composer: Richard Strauss
Libretto: Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Director: Neil Armfield
Set and Costume Designer: Dale Ferguson
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell

A Music Master: Richard Stilwell
The Composer: Alice Coote
The Tenor/Bacchus: Richard Margison
Zerbinetta: Jane Archibald
The Prima Donna/Ariadne: Amber Wagner

Although it is almost a century old, Richard Strauss' brilliant Ariadne auf Naxos still seems very fresh today. An opera-within-an-opera, it has a lot of that self-referential wit of Charlie Kaufman as well as some terrific music. After an absence of sixteen years, the Canadian Opera Company has remounted it with former Toronto Symphony conductor Sir Andrew Davis making his COC debut at the helm.

His musicianship has matured considerably in the intervening years. He was always a technically accomplished leader but could be stiff and rigid in his interpretations. Now, he can be quite the romantic and he brought out some lovely colours and textures from the smaller but highly layered orchestra. Many of the orchestral musicians had solos and all acquitted themselves with tremendous gusto.

Unfortunately, some of the singers were ill. So the audience didn't get to hear hometown Strauss specialist Adrianne Pieczonka in the dual role of the Prima Donna and Ariadne. But Amber Wagner did a remarkable job in her place. She too has a terrific voice and seemed perfectly suited for the role.

Another singer who was ill was Nova Scotian Jane Archibald who was also making her Canadian Opera Company debut. Nonetheless, she went ahead with the performance and she was exceptional as Zerbinetta. The ease with which she handled the coloratura fireworks was breathtaking. She has a wonderful comedic energy as well. 

There were a few shaky moments with the trio of nymphs at the opening of Act 2, but otherwise the whole production was stellar throughout. The odd mix of drama and comedy came together somehow and worked extremely well. If you have even the slightest interest in opera, this is definitely highly recommended.

Shows continue until May 29.

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