We have left the recital hall and are sitting in an underground nightclub on Bleeker St. listening to Mozart's Fantasia in D minor, K. 397, stirringly played by Sylvia Berry on a beautiful old fortepiano. What are we doing here, surrounded by people eating and drinking? Three lovely women enter single file in gowns and jewelry inspired by Ancient Greece, looking very much like a frieze in bas-relief. A conch shell is blown and the three women hold seashells up to their ears to listen to...the sea? the weeping of a broken heart? the panic of abandonment?
Thus begins Musica Nuova's presentation of The Arianna Project, a most original musical exploration of the plight of Ariadne, abandoned on the isle of Naxos by Theseus who promised to wed her in exchange for her help in outwitting the Minotaur. The three lovely women all play the part of Arianna, each one in turn giving voice to the hapless woman, as written by three different composers.
First we were transported back to the early 17th c. by Il Lamento d'Arianna, the sole remaining fragment of Claudio Monteverdi's second opera, sung by soprano Maeve Högland. Next we heard mezzo-soprano Amanda Keil, Artistic Director of Musica Nuova, who brought us forward to the late 18th c. in Franz Joseph Haydn's cantata Arianna à Naxos.
Emotionally wrung out by then, we were pleased to recover by listening to Arcangelo Corelli's Sonata da camera in c minor, op.4 no. 11 before soprano Marcy Richardson tore into Alessandro Scarlatti's L'Arianna which featured an aria of impressive rage. All three singers were dramatically and vocally fine but we were most impressed by Ms. Richardson's immersion in the material.
Stage Director Beth Greenberg managed to make this tired old story of betrayal and abandonment come to life in a way relevant to present times--all, thankfully, without leather trench coats and cell phones. We doubt there was a woman in the room who did not measure some of her disappointing romantic experiences against the plight of Arianna's. Instead of surtitles, there was a large book on stage with very concise modernized translations of the story. As the pages were turned, one heard titters in the audience. We call them pangs of recognition.
Sylvia Berry performed on the harpsichord as effectively as on the fortepiano. Grant Herreid played the theorbo; Motomi Igarashi made some interesting sounds on the viola da gamba and lirone; Vita Wallace and Abigail Karr were the violinists.
Musica Nuova has a mission of providing a new look at early music and they succeeded admirably in both style and substance. The performance ended in less than 90 minutes and we played in our head an aria from Ariadne auf Naxos. But that wouldn't have fit in with early music!
(c) meche kroop