Strauss – Ariadne auf Naxos.
Der Haushofmeister – Franz Mazura
Der Musiklehrer – Markus Brück
Der Komponist – Daniela Sindram
Primadonna / Ariadne – Meagan Miller
Der Tenor / Bacchus – Stefan Vinke
Der Offizier – Paul Kaufmann
Der Tanzmeister – Thomas Blondelle
Der Perückenmacher – Jörg Schörner
Lakai – Noel Bouley
Zerbinetta – Susanne Elmark
Harlekin – Carlton Ford
Scaramuccio – Jörg Schörner
Truffaldin – Tobias Kehrer
Brighella – Paul Kaufmann
Najade – Siobhán Stagg
Dryade – Ronnita Miller
Echo – Elena Tsallagova
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin / Ulf Schirmer.
Philharmonie, Berlin. Tuesday, October 14th, 2014.
The last time I saw Ariadne auf Naxos in concert was just over a decade ago with the London Symphony conducted by Simon Rattle. In that performance a young soprano took over at the last moment and instantly made a name for herself. Since then, she has been singing Strauss all over the world. Her name was Anne Schwanewilms. In an interesting twist of fate, tonight I saw Ariadne in the hall normally occupied by Rattle’s current orchestra. It should also have been Anja Harteros’ role debut as Ariadne but due to illness she pulled out just under a week before the show. She was replaced by a highly promising US soprano who has sung the role in both Munich and Vienna and is regarded as one of the most exciting young Strauss singers, Meagan Miller.
A concert performance really brings all of the attention to the voice. Without costumes or sets, for better or worse, one becomes even more aware of the singing that one would in a staged performance. In a way, this show really demonstrated the depth of casting available at the Deutsche Oper right now and it is certainly very good. The performers were mainly positioned at the front of the stage and sang from music stands while occasionally they were positioned for effect behind the orchestra. It worked well and was an intelligent mise en espace.
It might have been quite stressful for Miller to come on as a replacement and it struck me that she was perhaps beset by nerves for much of the evening. ‘Ein schönes war’ revealed a voice under pressure and she had difficulty sustaining the line, the breath not fully under control. I was left with a sense that she was pushing her beautiful instrument more than it could take and there was a beat to the voice that threatened to turn into a wobble. Fortunately, by the time she reached the final duet Miller had hit her stride. She floated some beautiful lines and made much more of the words than had been the case earlier in the evening. There’s a silvery core to the sound that is really quite attractive. It was an interesting performance but I get the impression that this might not have been her at her very best.
Susanne Elmark, who was a sensational Marie in the Komische Oper Soldaten, gave us a vivacious and irresistible Zerbinetta. She had all the notes and certainly knew how to use them. With her acting she managed to raise the level of the show from a concert to a real, living performance. ‘Grossmächtige Prinzessin’ was show-stopping and she made the coloratura really mean something. If there was one thing that distracted it’s that the close of the aria was slightly messy and there was perhaps a lack of a genuine trill. It’s a wonderful voice though with a quick, dusky vibrato and easy forays above the stave.
Daniela Sindram was a real discovery for me. This was the first time that I have heard her and I very much hope it won’t be the last. The voice is even, rich and seemingly effortlessly produced. It has a velvety fruitiness and depth of tone that is really impressive. She also made a concrete and believable character within the framework of a concert performance and her duet with Elmark’s Zerbinetta was absolutely captivating.
Stefan Vinke gave us a reliable and solid Bacchus. The voice isn’t perhaps the most tonally interesting but it was always musical, he hit all the notes, in the right order, in tune and didn’t crack. The remainder of the ensemble was of excellent quality. The trio of nymphs was very well-balanced and benefitted from the glorious contralto of Ronnita Miller. She is undoubtedly a singer to watch with a voice of rare richness and sheen. Elena Tsallagova was a pure-voiced and nicely-judged Echo and Siobhán Stagg’s Najade navigated her lines impeccably. Zerbinetta’s troupe was again well-balanced and blended well together. Carlton Ford gave us a virile and masculine-sounding Harlekin with impeccable diction and an impressively rich baritone. Markus Brück’s muscular baritone was an asset in the prologue as was Thomas Blondelle’s nicely-sung Tanzmeister. Only the veteran Franz Mazura disappointed as the Haushofmeister. I feel bad criticizing someone of his vintage with so many great career achievements behind him but the way he bulldozed through the text without a trace of irony just made his role fall flat.
The orchestra played extremely well for Ulf Schirmer and they clearly enjoyed working with him. The principal cellist, Arthur Hornig, stood out with the lyrical playing of his solos. I did however find Schirmer’s interpretation frustrating. In the prologue he pulled back the tempo at the more conversational moments so that they failed to fizz while he pushed through ‘ein Augenblick ist wenig’ where he really could have luxuriated in the sound. The opera seemed to be a reading that lived in the moment, rather than taking the long view and there were several moments in the final duet where the tempo just ground to a halt. This seemed to be conducting that wanted to draw attention to itself rather than to the singing. By setting up the orchestra with the strings on the left and the wind, brass and percussion at the front and of course with the band on stage rather than in the pit, we really did get to hear so much detail that is normally hidden.
This was a bit of a mixed performance that promised much. There was some sensational singing from Sindram, Elmark and many of the ensemble members but there were also a number of things that frustrated. It may well be that limited rehearsal time and last-minute nerves played a big part in determining how the performance went. It did however showcase some remarkable talents and a superb orchestra.