Strauss’s “Ariadne” closes Met season in sturdy fashion

May 08, 2011
By Hester Furman

Violeta Urmana as Ariadne and Kathleen Kim as Zerbinetta in the Metropolitan Opera production of Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos." Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

The final week of the Metropolitan Opera’s season began Saturday with the opening of a three-performance run of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos in Elijah Moshinsky’s 1993 production.

Ariadne has a complicated history of evolution and revision. The final version of the opera combines several disparate elements. It revisits the eighteenth-century Viennese world of Der Rosenkavalier, meeting along the way a mock-commedia dell’arte cast of characters, alongside some pseudo-Wagnerian mythological figures. With all this, and no real dramatic plot-line Ariadne auf Naxos is not always an easy work to love. Yet Moshinsky’s brilliant production and a compelling cast make about the best argument possible for an opera that contains some of Strauss’ most beautiful music and endearing characters.

The mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has triumphed at the Met in several Rossini roles, most recently as Isolier in Le Comte Ory. At Saturday’s matinee  she sang her first Strauss role at the Met in a highly anticipated role debut as the Composer. Her clarion voice soared over the orchestra with finely hued colors. She approached the role with ardent commitment as well as her customary wit. Hopefully we will soon have a chance to hear her Octavian at the Met.

Following Kathleen Kim’s definitive performances as Chiang Ch’ing, the wife of Mao Tse-Tung, in Nixon in China, the spectacular coloratura soprano revived her Zerbinetta from last season. She has clearly blossomed in the role. Along with non-stop vocal and dramatic acrobatics, she brought heartfelt beauty to the lyrical passages.

The distinguished soprano Violeta Urmana brought great integrity to the role of Ariadne and heldentenor Robert Dean Smith brought stability and conviction, if not beauty of sound, to the treacherous role of Bacchus in the final duet. Vasili Ladyuk was a fine Harlekin, making his Met role debut.

This was also the first time the Met’s principal guest conductor Fabio Luisi conducted Ariadne auf Naxos at the Met. The finely textured transparency and detail of the orchestral playing was beautifully balanced with the stage. Swift changes in tempo and shifts in musical style were deftly executed. Judging from the ovation he received on Saturday — the most enthusiastic audience response of all the curtain calls — Luisi is quickly becoming established at the Met, aptly so for James Levine’s likely successor.

Ariadne auf Naxos will be repeated May 10 and May 13.

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