We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Anthony Robin Schneider, Jarrett Ott, Matthew DiBattista, Liv Redpath, and Terrence Chin-Loy (photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

Liv Redpath and Amanda Majeski
(Photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

Richard Strauss' 1916 opera Ariadne auf Naxos offers countless delights as well as a wonderful message--comedy can overcome tragedy and love can eliminate grief and stress. The richest man in Vienna is throwing a dinner party and has commissioned an opera to entertain his guests.  Unbeknownst to the unwary young composer, he has also engaged a comedy troupe starring the flirtatious and fickle Zerbinetta. This is enough to throw the arrogant and temperamental stars of this opera seria into a frenzy of disdain and scorn.

When the Major Domo announces in the plummiest of British accents (spoken dialogue was in English) that both troupes will perform simultaneously in order to finish in time for the fireworks, the composer and singers go ballistic. It is time for the young composer to face the reality of the music business! On a happier note, he and Zerbinetta fall for one another.

The show must go on with poor Ariadne singing in Act II (now in German) about her wish to die.  Theseus has loved her and left her, abandoned on a lonely island. She longs for Mercury to come and take her to the "other side". Zerbinetta and her troupe dance and sing and try to cheer her up, to no avail. Zerbinetta even tries to talk to her woman to woman about taking new lovers. Eventually, the young god Bacchus arrives on Naxos and becomes smitten with her. In a lovely directorial touch (Tim Albery) the Composer arrives at the side of the set and appears delighted at the apparent success of his opera. He is joined by Zerbinetta and the two couples are seen embracing in tandem.

As Zerbinetta, 2017 Apprentice Singer Liv Redpath simply stunned us with her glorious coloratura and engaging stage presence. Every note and every gesture served to illuminate her delightful character. She was far more appealing than the dour Ariadne, sung by South African soprano Amanda Echalaz. Ms. Echalaz was effective in Act I as the imperious prima donna but in Act II, her performance as Ariadne lacked the beauty and color we have come to expect in this role. Tenor Bruce Sledge distinguished himself by getting through this challenging role with beauty of tone and lovely phrasing.

The other Amanda in this tale of two Amandas surprised us. We have never been a great fan of Amanda Majeski, but in the travesti role of The Composer, usually sung by a mezzo-soprano, she absolutely shone and was totally convincing in her artistic despair and in her budding romance with Zerbinetta.

Zerbinetta's troupe of commedia dell'arte players was performed with great lively style by Apprentice Artists--Jarrett Ott, Anthony Robin Schneider, Matthew DiBattista, and Terrence Chin-Loy, whose singing and dancing (!) added so much to the evening's delight.

Sarah Tucker, Samantha Gossard, and Meryl Dominguez (photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera.
Accompanying Ariadne on the isle of Naxos were three lovely ladies portraying the nymphs Echo (soprano Sarah Tucker), Najade (soprano Meryl Dominguez), and Dryade (mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard). Strauss gave them some beautiful harmonies and they gave some beautiful singing to the audience. We got to thinking about Mozart's three ladies and then about Wagner's Rheinmadchen. We can think of no greater treat than three female voices in harmony. And those gals can really sing!

Smaller roles were all well handled. Kevin Burdette's Major Domo was a study in pomposity and self-importance. Rod Gilfrey portrayed the Music Master in a piece of luxury casting. Jarrett Logan Porter played the wigmaker, so badly abused by the temperamental tenor. Brent Michael Smith was the scurrying footman and Jesse Darden played an Officer. Brenton Ryan made a fine dancing master.

Maestro James Gaffigan did a swell job with Strauss' lavish orchestration and Tim Albery directed with a sure hand. Jodi Melnick's choreography for Zerbinetta's troupe was delightfully different and done in vaudeville style with the men sporting walking sticks. Who knew those guys could dance!!!!

Set and Costume Design by Tobias Hoheisel was highly unusual. The set for Act I was realistic and accurate to the period. We were shown a corridor in the rich man's home with a series of doors to dressing rooms.  Except, in a droll turn, one of them turned out to be a broom closet. During the overture, we could see the arrival of all the artists and get a good idea of their personalities.

The set for Act II was abstract with a pair of curved architectural elements enclosing Ariadne's "cave" which was shaped like a shallow bowl colored red. Thomas C. Hase's lighting design worked its magic.

Ariadne wore a long black dress, suited to her grief.  Zerbinetta and her troupe were not costumed in traditional commedia dell'arte garb but sported garments suited to the early 20th c. Zerbinetta herself looked like a model for Poiret.

We cannot close without mentioning our thought that Strauss often worked through his personal issues through his operas. In this case, he and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal almost came to blows as they worked out the necessary compromises to get this opera on the page and on the stage. Could we not notice similar attempts at working through issues in his Capriccio and in his Intermezzo?  In these cases, art surely imitates life!

(c) meche kroop

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