Ariadne auf Naxos at the Canadian Opera Company, May 3, 2011. Complete cast & creative HERE.
Perhaps the greatest achievement (and there are many) of this production of Ariadne is its intimacy: even in the enormous COC auditorium, the atmosphere of a chamber performance at a friend’s house never goes away.
Several factors made this possible. The orchestration is leaner than is usual for Strauss, and the lustre of the COC orchestra under the conductor Andrew Davis shone stronger for it. The playing was magisterial at every turn, which was especially obvious in the many instrumental solos. The music and the voices never lost connection; the shadings of the music were continuously in accordance with the colours of the voices on stage.
The singing was of outstanding subtlety. Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta is flawless, both dramatically and vocally. What takes this Zerbinetta further than any many other competent Zerbinettas is Archibald’s ease with the role and, again, this reigned-in quality of her performance. She sung the high coloratura acrobatics perfectly clearly and most often in mezzo forte or piano, the most difficult volume to project and sustain. There were no excesses, no showmanship, just brilliance.
As per usual, Adrianne Pieczonka sounded and looked gorgeous, and also found just the right tone for the character of Ariadne. She played her with a slight humourous distance but also with compassion, never coming anywhere near caricature. Alice Coote’s Komponist was excellent even though she did cross into caricature a few times. Too bad one can’t applaud after her Musik aria. The only principal who seemed not to be in on the joke that everybody else was in on was Richard Margison, who sung Bacchus loudly and with earnest pomp, as if on his way to perform Wagner he took a wrong turn and ended up in Naxos. There was also zero chemistry between Pieczonka’s Ariadne and Margison’s Bacchus, which made the concluding part of the opera drag a bit.
The singers in the smaller roles were excellent. Naiad (Simone Osborne), Dryad (Lauren Segal) and Echo (Teiya Kasahara) have voices of noticeable individuality, both as soloists and as a group. They were not given much to do on stage but stand and sing (can we retire ‘park and bark’?) yet still made a mark. The male quartet (John Easterlin, Peter Barrett, Michael Uloth and Christopher Enns) was a gift that kept giving at every turn. It’s difficult to imagine their roles performed better in any way.
The set was rather under-achieving and looked like it had been conceived on the back of a napkin (director Neil Armfield, set & costume designer Dale Ferguson). We get the usual change rooms in act 1, and a minimalist act 2. You never quite know why the Ariadne opera within the Strauss’s opera is being performed against a set of hanging rags (Because the richest man in Vienna is not as great an art supporter as he claims? Because everything looks drab to the heart-broken Ariadne?) but you end up not caring too much. The performance of the entire ensemble works so well that it doesn’t need a set at all.
I am looking forward to seeing this again later this month.