Thursday, 15 September 2011

Unverwandelte Ariadne

Camilla Nylund and Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Wiener Staatsoper, 12/09/2011

Alexander Pereira | Der Haushofmeister
Sophie Koch | Der Komponist
Ian Storey | Der Tenor (Bacchus)
Daniela Fally | Zerbinetta
Camilla Nylund | Primadonna (Ariadne)
Jochen Schmeckenbecher | Ein Musiklehrer
Herwig Pecoraro | Ein Tanzmeister
Clemens Unterreiner | Harlekin
Peter Jelosits | Scaramuccio
Wolfgang Bankl | Truffaldin
Benjamin Bruns | Brighella
Ileana Tonca | Najade
Juliette Mars | Dryade
Elisabeta Marin | Echo

Jeffrey Tate | Conductor
Filippo Sanjust | Director

Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

I actually went to see this twice for no particular reason, except that I won’t get to hear another note of Strauss until Daphne in December (not really counting the Volksoper’s Salome here). It wasn’t all bad, but with each viewing – and it’s only my fourth time in total – Filippo Sanjust’s unenlightening production gets progressively harder to endure, with the grandeur of the sets now quite at odds with a general state of sodium-lit shabbiness. Gibt es kein Hinüber für diese Inszenierung, Herr Meyer? For insights into the lack of thought see here and here. I can’t add much, preoccupied as my mind was with pressing questions such as but why, supposedly seconds before curtain up, does the Primadonna take her place on stage wearing a Ziegfeld Follies feather headdress, only to appear in the opera proper wearing the more Ariadne-appropriate attire of a billowing bathsheet?

Having shaken off those ridiculous feathers, Camilla Nylund proved a capable Ariadne. Top notes were a little vibrato-heavy and there’s only just enough vocal power there, but she had a way of sustaining a note and supporting a phrase – something I haven’t heard from her before – that was effective in ‘Ein Schönes war’. Daniela Fally’s coloratura is remarkably clean and powerful, and her Zerbinetta is well on its way to slipping convincingly between giddiness and introspection. Not quite there yet, but a performance to watch out for. Ian Storey’s Bacchus was an unmitigated disaster on the first night. Opening phrases were marked, indeed barely audible. So it’s a wretched part and Bacchus practically has to start singing by the front door of the Hotel Sacher in this production, but still; could Circe have heard him? I doubt it. He never really eased into the run, but was less reluctant to unpack his Heldentenor by the fourth performance. He has the required ringing tone throughout his upper register, but it was squeezed, poorly projected and in many places, horribly strained. The poor guy probably didn’t want to look bad by cancelling his Hausdebüt. But in the off week from hell, he really should have.

Jochen Schmeckenbecher’s Musiklehrer and Herwig Pecoraro’s Tanzmeister were fine if unmemorable, and new Salzburg Intendant Alexander Pereira once again showed that being directly descended from the legendary Fanny von Arnstein makes one more or less born to the role of the Haushofmeister. Sophie Koch’s composer was the only standout performance in the Prologue but consistency was markedly off. She’s always taken the aria at a pace, but in both performances I heard it was simply too hurried – the wonderful ‘Die Welt ist lieblich’ moment glossed over perfunctorily – and she couldn’t always be heard over the orchestra (which by the fourth performance could not be accused of playing too loudly). Her ‘Nach meiner Oper’ sequence was much better: lovely, sweet tone for ‘Du, Venus’ Sohn’ and that small moment of hesitation after running out of words and singing on regardless. Oh for more detail like this.

The Staatsopernorchester was very scrappy in the first performance and had improved considerably by the fourth. You can learn a lot about this score just by watching Jeffrey Tate’s hands; a pity, then, that so much of this imagined detail went unrealised. With gestures made as courteously as Tate’s and yet still ignored, another self-inflicted hole was poked in the credibility of complaints about the way this orchestra is handled by conductors.

Image credit Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn

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