Strauss – Ariadne auf Naxos.
Der Haushofmeister – Markus Meyer
Der Musiklehrer – Martin Gantner
Der Komponist – Daniela Sindram
Primadonna / Ariadne – Gun-Brit Barkmin
Der Tenor / Bacchus – Charles Workman
Der Offizier – Galeano Salas
Der Tanzmeister – Manuel Günther
Der Perückenmacher – Boris Prýgl
Lakai – Kristof Klorek
Zerbinetta – Brenda Rae
Harlekin – Thomas Tatzl
Scaramuccio – Dean Power
Truffaldin – Callum Thorpe
Brighella – Matthew Grills
Najade – Siobhan Stagg
Dryade – Rachael Wilson
Echo – Laura Tătulescu
Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Lothar Koenigs.
Stage Director – Robert Carsen
Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich. Sunday, April 1st, 2018.
Tonight was an opportunity to revisit Robert Carsen’s 2008 production of Ariadne auf Naxos, here revived by Georgine Balk. It was my third time, after having seen it in Berlin in 2009 (where it was coproduced with the Deutsche Oper) and then again here in Munich in 2015. If the Stuttgart Parsifal seen on Friday represents one of Calixto Bieito’s finest achievements, then this Ariadne surely is one of Carsen’s. There is a simplicity to the staging and storytelling that belies a rare technical skill and vision. The lighting (Manfred Voss) is unobtrusive, yet we become almost imperceptibly aware of its natural framing of individual moments, all the while drawing attention to individual characters’ situations and motivations.
The simplicity of the visuals also makes the sheer detail behind the personenregie seem completely naturalistic. It feels that we are watching a genuine troupe of individuals. So many small details emerge as we proceed through the work. For instance, the Prima Donna tripping over and then being laughed at by Zerbinetta, the way that the composer watches his opera from the stage and reacts as if bewitched by Zerbinetta, or the Musiklehrer doubled over with pain as he hurts his back. Striking also how in the prologue both the Prima Donna and Zerbinetta sport the same hairstyle, suggesting perhaps that what unites them is bigger than the ‘Abstand’ that separates them.
Carsen also makes use of the house’s ballet corps in place of a set, the ‘wüste Insel’ instead portrayed by dancers lying on the floor (who are soon after revealed to also include Zerbinetta’s troupe in drag). He achieves so much within a black box setting. In ‘es gibt ein Reich’, Ariadne appears alone in this empty space, the symmetry of her position at the centre of the stage has a beauty that that brings out her isolation and magnifies the meaning of the text. Likewise, the use of shadows to portray Ariadne and Bacchus in the final duet, as if fading away into memory, is so haunting. However, the most moving moment comes in the final tableau. As the curtain closes the Komponist rushes onto the stage. The curtain reopens to reveal an empty set – the singers gone, the space once occupied by his work now empty, yet the memory of the evening lives on forever. It’s an unbearably moving and magical moment that gets me every time I see it.
This might have been a repertoire evening in the house but it was far from being routine. Gun-Brit Barkmin replaced the originally-cast Krassimira Stoyanova as Ariadne. Barkmin’s textual clarity was most impressive – certainly the clearest I’ve ever heard the words sung live. Her chest voice on ‘Totenreich’ also seemed to take us deep into the abyss. She sang her ‘schönes War’ in a single breath aided by a flowing tempo from the pit. The voice is prone to tightness at the very top, just where it should really bloom and often it felt that the highest notes were achieved through sheer willpower alone. As the final duet proceeded, the pitch also started to sink and there was a limited tonal palette at work. Still, Barkmin’s use of text gave much pleasure. Charles Workman was an admirable Bacchus. The voice is well-placed with a bright, forward sound. His was a more lyrical Bacchus than we often hear but thanks to the good placement of the voice, the tone carried nicely through the house. He was absolutely tireless in a role that so often sounds like an endurance test and for that, he most certainly deserves our admiration.
Brenda Rae was a sensational Zerbinetta. One could hear the hours of practice that had gone into making her rendition of the music so precise – and her comic timing was show stopping. The voice has the lightness of a soufflé and the top is produced with almost nonchalant ease. Her high E was miraculous, not only in the ease, in which it came out but also in its fullness. The way that she deployed the fearsomely difficult music while being carried on the shoulders of some buff, shirtless gentlemen in tiny shorts was nothing short of astonishing. Daniela Sindram gave us her fabulous Komponist. The voice is so warm and so round, and also has an ease of production that is staggering, rising up to an open and ecstatic top. Her ode to music was deeply felt and she seemed to have room to spare as the voice opened up in ecstatic ardour.
As always, the remainder of the cast reflected the truly exceptional standards of the house. To have a trio of nymphs as strong as Siobhan Stagg, Rachael Wilson and Laura Tătulescu is luxury casting indeed. They blended so miraculously together – Stagg bright and shimmering, Tătulescu warmer and velvety, and Wilson full and rich. Thomas Tatzl was a handsome-voiced Harlekin, his youthful baritone produced with healthy sheen. The orchestra played well for Lothar Koenigs, a few horn accidents along the way notwithstanding. He found a seemingly infinite palette of instrumental colour in the chamber forces and was an extremely sympathetic accompanist to his singers, knowing when to pull back and when to keep things moving. His tempi were unobtrusive and he also never allowed the final duet to drag as it so often can.
Tonight may not have been an Ariadne for the ages but yet it was a truly magical evening in the theatre. It was one of those evenings when a great production brought out the wonder of the work and allowed the cast to live their roles. Sindram’s Komponist and Rae’s Zerbinetta, in particular, were absolutely glorious and the depth of casting and the excellence of the whole ensemble was extremely impressive. Carsen’s Ariadne is a magical musing on the transience of music and of art – how it lives in the moment and how it remains in the memory for even longer.
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