Ecstatic Soaring: Ariadne auf Naxos from Opera Ballet Vlaanderen

Strauss – Ariadne auf Naxos

Primadonna / Ariadne – Carla Filipcic Holm
Der Tenor / Bacchus – Michael Weinius
Zerbinetta – Lisa Mostin
Harlekin – Leon Košavić
Scaramuccio – Stephan Adriaens
Truffaldin – Goran Jurić
Brighella / Der Tanzmeister – Denzil Delaere
Der Komponist – Raehann Bryce-Davis
Ein Musiklehrer – Leon Košavić
Ein Perückenmacher – Thierry Vallier
Ein Lakai – Onno Pels
Der Offizier – Davy Smets
Najade – Elisa Soster
Dryade – Raphaële Green
Echo – Wu Chia Fen
Der Haushofmeister – Freek De Craecker

Symfonisch Orkest Opera Ballet Vlaanderen / Alejo Pérez.
Concert performance.  Video director – Greet Swinnen.

Opera Ballet Vlaanderen, Antwerp, Belgium.  Sunday, February 14th, 2021.  Streamed via operaballet.be.

With this concert performance of Ariadne auf Naxos, the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen gave their first full opera of the year, following on from their concert Eindelijk 2021 a few weeks ago.  Right now, we should have been seeing a new staging of Tristan, but alas it was not to be.  Fortunately, the house was able to use the cast for the Strauss, while inviting additional guests.  Naturally, given the sanitary regulations in place in Flanders currently, it was performed without an audience, the orchestra sat at single desks with strings and percussion players wearing masks, as indeed did house music director Alejo Pérez.  The singers sang in evening dress in front of the orchestra, some using scores others not, while the Haushofmeister, youthful actor Freek De Craecker, spoke his lines with an appropriately sardonic tone in Standard Belgian Dutch.

Photo: © Filip Van Roe

The prologue featured the Komponist of the exciting US mezzo, and Flanders regular, Raehann Bryce-Davis.  She is undoubtedly a major talent but also still a very young one.  Bryce-Davis is a natural musician, she understands the idiom fully, which made her ‘Du Venus Sohn’ take flight in creative ecstasy.  She coped well with the extremely high tessitura of the role, and her closing ode to music soared gloriously.  Her German still needs some work, however, which meant that her wonderful vocalism didn’t quite have the impact it could have had.  Bryce-Davis is a profoundly musical singer, she knows how to make the musical lines work and how to bring a character to life through those lines, but I did long to hear her really bring out the truth in the text.  Make no mistake though, she’s a singer to watch.  Bryce-Davis also poured out her heart to Lisa Mostin’s livewire Zerbinetta.  Mostin really did make much of the text, making it live and bringing out the vivaciousness of her character.  Her big set piece was dispatched with a winning confidence, a nicely big and full high E, and the ornate lines dispatched with ease.  She made a decent attempt at a trill and has undeniable stage presence.  Her Harlekin was Leon Košavić, who also took the role of the Musiklehrer due to the very last-minute withdrawal of Werner Van Mechelen.  He’s the owner of an exceptionally handsome baritone, resonant and even throughout the range, even if his German is as yet more of the Adriatic than the Alps.

Carla Filipcic Holm sang an honest and deeply-felt Ariadne.  She dispatched ‘Ein Schönes war’ with impressively long lines and in ‘Es gibt ein Reich’ soared ecstatically.  Her luminous soprano revelled in those soaring Straussian lines.  Her intonation did come in and out of focus at times, but was less noticeable when her soprano was in full sail.  Her Bacchus was Michael Weinius.  He had an accident in his opening lines, perhaps firing on too many cylinders straight out, but once past that he revelled in everything Strauss could throw at him, his hefty tenor confidently dispatching the fearsomely high writing.  The remainder of the cast reflected the high standards of the house.  Not least in a delightfully mellifluous trio of nymphs, anchored by the characterful and liquid mezzo of Raphaële Green.

The house orchestra was on good form for Pérez who led a lyrical reading that felt ideally paced in the opera, with no sense of dragging.  It did feel that the prologue lacked a little in lightness of touch, and there were a few moments where attack could have been sharper in the strings.  That said, Pérez conjured up a world of sonorities from the chamber forces, allowing the textures to expand in the closing duet, that supported and allowed Filipcic and Weinius to pour out ecstatic tone.

Opera Antwerp. Photo: © Mikhail Porollo

This was a highly satisfying Ariadne and thanks are due to Opera Ballet Vlaanderen for giving us the opportunity to watch it.  There was much that gave a great deal of pleasure even if, in some aspects, it felt slightly unfinished.  It was always honestly sung, satisfyingly conducted and played, and gave us those soaring lines that encourage us to look beyond to a better place.  And that may just be what is needed these days.

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