|Caroline Miller, Angela Dinkelman, Jazmin DeRice, Rebecca Paul, and Adam Klein|
It is astonishing that the small and scrappy Utopia Opera would even consider mounting a challenging opera like Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. It is even more astonishing that they succeeded admirably, presenting a highly entertaining and honorable production of this century old work. But then company founder and director William Remmers is undauntable and unflappable in the face of any challenge. His motto must be "Bring it On!"
Hugo von Hofmannsthal's libretto is replete with humor but bears serious undertones. We are in the home of "the richest man in Vienna" who has planned an evening's entertainment involving a new work by a young composer, an opéra seria about Ariadne, abandoned on the island of Naxos by her lover Theseus. This is to be followed by a light entertainment of the opéra comique genre involving commedia del'arte characters. We are led to consider a society's concern with "high art" versus "low art". We are not the first generation to face this choice.
In order to be finished in time for the 9:00 fireworks, it has been decided at the last minute to present the two works on the same stage at the same time--a preposterous notion of course but a juxtaposition leading to some interesting situations when the flirtatious Zerbinetta (Jessica Philpot) tries to get the suicidal Ariadne (Rebecca Paul) to cheer up and find a new lover. Ariadne longs for death and the arrival of the god Bacchus (Adam Klein) is mistaken for Hermès who will take her to the underworld.
The music is lush, complex, and heavily orchestrated. Happily, the live orchestra, conducted by polymath Mr. Remmers, was up to the challenge and the textures of Christopher Fecteau's orchestral reduction ensured that nothing was lost.
The parts were well cast, for the most part, and the sizable voices did justice to the work. Elizabeth Bouk was dramatically convincing as the neophyte composer who was understandably furious about the trashing of her work but somewhat mollified by the attentions of Zerbinetta.
Notable were the three nymphs who sang in gorgeous harmony, reminding us that Richard Wagner had considerable influence on Strauss. Sopranos Angela Dinkelman as Naiad and Caroline Miller as Echo were joined by mezzo-soprano Jazmin DeRice as Dryade. Not only were they gorgeously costumed (wardrobe by Eric Lamp) and spectacularly made up by Rachel Estabrook, but they sported long ribbons from each finger which somehow made us think of the Rhinemädchens.
The difficult music for the three leads was well-performed and the smaller roles were as well. Zerbinetta's companions Truffaldino (Roman Laba), Scaramuccio (Samuel Themer), Brighella (Gilad Paz who also sang the role of the dance master), and Harlekin (Jonathan Rohr who sang a fine duet with Ms. Philpot)--all of them added horseplay and humor.
Veteran baritone Richard Holmes did a fine job as the Music Master who tried to console the young composer with the wisdom that age brings. One does best to accept what one cannot change! The officious Major-Domo, a spoken role, was well handled by David Seatter. Stage Director Benjamin Spierman took on the role of a Lackey and also translated the excellent titles. Notably, everyone's German was comprehensible.
Fortunately for New York opera lovers, there will be THREE more performances, one tonight and again next Friday and Saturday nights--all at 7:30 at Hunter College. Tickets are very modestly priced for this quality of work. Don't miss an opportunity to hear some stirringly conducted music and a finely directed drama.
(c) meche kroop