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The purpose or indeed the true worth of Ariadne auf Naxos isn't always immediately identifiable. Like Der Rosenkavalier, Arabella and Capriccio, the opera is partly a homage to opera and older forms of music and in how they clash with a more modern sensibility, and partly it's an experiment with style and form. Musically and poetically it's clearly a work of exquisite beauty and sophistication, but isn't it really just a frivolous exercise that's overly contrived and ultimately inconsequential? Ariadne auf Naxos, of course, is only silly and inconsequential if it's allowed to be and only if it's played either too straight or its seemingly one-note joke is overplayed for laughs. It's extremely rare that a director is able to get to the heart and true genius of the work in the way that Katharina Thoma does for the 2013 Glyndebourne production.

The coming together of high art and low entertainment to reach out and say something meaningful to an audience is the "message" of Ariadne auf Naxos. Zerbinetta's deflating of the lofty expressions of Ariadne's self-indulgent grief (What she really needs is a new man!") reflects a belief that life's difficult questions may indeed be found in life's simple pleasures. Does the opera however really need so much artifice to deliver such a simple sentiment? Well, Ariadne auf Naxos is about the transformative power of love, the creation and realisation of one's dreams and illusions, the creation of "little gods", and in a way that's what opera does too. It's not life, it's an artificial construct, but it's one that nonetheless contains essential truths, real emotions and feelings and stagecraft and illusion is very much a part of the package.

The WWII period setting for this Ariadne auf Naxos has proven to be controversial in some parts - which I find hard to believe. In reality it's fully supportive of the themes of the work and its opera within an opera conceit by cleverly placing its country estate setting within the country estate setting of Glyndebourne. More than just being a clever self-referential idea however, Katharina Thoma makes the essential conflict within the opera work by relating it back to an issue that plagued Strauss and his librettist Hugh von Hofmannstahl through most of their working lives - the question of the split between the world of the artist and reality. His career spanning two world wars, the question of whether the artist has any responsibility for what goes on in the wider world or whether they should remain above politics and concerned only with essential universal questions of human nature was a particularly thorny question for Strauss as a German composer.

It's not difficult to see Strauss' personal dilemma in the character of the Composer and his horror of the desecration of his glorious work of art - "Why drag me from my world into this?", he asks as fighter planes fly over the stately home, bombs explode and masonry falls from the ceiling onto the stage. The actual performance of the combined operas takes place subsequently in the same stately home that has now been converted into a field hospital for the wounded. Looking like a WWII entertainment company, Zerbinetta's chirpy optimism however represents the spirit and tenacity of the ordinary citizen to pull through, no matter how bleak the situation, although she herself exhibits signs of PTSD. Bacchus arrives as a battle-weary fighter pilot ready to assist Ariadne through to the promise of the new post-war world. This is simply marvellous characterisation and presentation. The power of art, theatre, music and - very specifically - music and opera to transform and illuminate reality is exactly what Ariadne auf Naxos sets out to demonstrate. There's nothing frivolous about it.

And if the stagecraft helps brings these elements out, the performances are no less critical to getting the message across. Soile Isokoski is a soaring Ariadne, Sergey Skorokhodov a suitably heldentenor Bacchus, Kate Lindsey an intense Composer, singing marvellously and even making her presence felt in the second part, Laura Claycomb a sparkling Zerbinetta. Vladimir Jurowski draws out the delicate beauty of the opera's reduced ensemble instrumentation, tying its deceptively simple melodies accurately to the tone and the intent of the production. The region-free Blu-ray presents the production well on a BD50 disc, with extra features that look at the design and concept. Jurowski is particularly impressed at how insightfully the production draws out all the meaning of a difficult work. Subtitles are in English, French, German and Korean.
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on 13 July 2014
At first sight it might seem strange to set Ariadne auf Naxos in an English country house during World War 2 – but why not? The action is supposed to be set in the house of “the richest man in Vienna” – so an elegant country house is not such a stretch. The text does not tie the piece to any specific period in history – so why not 1940? In this production, the Prologue takes place in a large room in the country house. At the very end, the house is bombed. The action of the “Opera” then takes place in the same room, but now damaged and converted into a hospital. Ariadne is in a hospital bed. The bombing has obviously taken its toll on her and she’s having hallucinations. Zerbinetta and her boys are entertaining the patients. Bacchus eventually arrives as a wounded pilot. One of the challenges for directors of Ariadne auf Naxos is binding together the two disparate halves. Some directors (eg Christof Loy in the current Covent Garden production) don’t even try. Here however, Katharina Thoma has created a believable drama that follows through from start to finish. I loved it!

The singers are all very good indeed. Soile Isokoski is far too nice to make much impact as the Prima Donna – just coming across as a bit petulant, but sings gloriously as Ariadne. Kate Lindsey is superbly intense as the Composer and Laura Claycomb delivers all the thrills and trills as Zerbinetta. Sergey Skorokhodov is a ringingly heroic Bacchus. The smaller parts are also well taken. Naiad, Dryad and Echo (here hospital nurses) blend beautifully and the four comedians make a tremendous team – both singing and dancing. I also liked the idea of having the piano on stage instead of in the pit, with pianist Gary Matthewman incorporated into the action as the fifth comedian. The London Philharmonic Orchestra play superbly for Vladimir Jurowski in his final production as Music Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera. As is often the case, it’s astonishing that so much rich and varied sound can be produced by an “orchestra” of only 36 musicians.

Sound and pictures are very good. Technical details: 16-bit LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio.

For my money, this is now the best production of Ariadne auf Naxos on DVD/blu-ray, and up there with the very best musically. Highly recommended.
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Changing the time and place of a work can destroy both its presentation and its integrity, but not in this case. Indeed, it can very well be said that resetting this production during the early Nineteen Forties was a stroke of genius resulting in yet another Glyndebourne triumph. The recording is excellent with both sound and picture quality of the best. The suggestive staging strikes a perfect balance without being either overdone or too sparse and the costumes are suggestive of the character types wearing them. The three nymphs Naiad, Dryad and Echo, played by Anna Maria Labin, Adrinana di Paola and Gabriela Istoc, were dressed just like the nurses I can remember from my young days when I spent some time in hospital. In those days these nurses seemed to drift around the wards like ephemeral beings as they attended to us patients. There was a kind of musical quality to it all with their voices reflecting the kind of work being carried out, and there was certainly a marked change of timbre when a visit from matron was imminent. All this kind of thing is convincingly portrayed in this production, which recaptures the musicalities of Nineteen Forties hospital life to a tee and I loved it.

All the actors are well chosen for their roles, although Soile Isokoski is not as good as the prima donna in Act 1 as she is in the role of Ariadne in Act 2. Laura Claycomb is perfect in the role of Zerbinetta, in which she manages to blend compassion and sexiness together in the most winning fashion. Kate Lindsey is wholly convincing as the composer. All along with all the actors one gets the impression of real people. I found myself saying: 'I knew/know someone just like that!' Even seeing Laura Claycomb clad in shorts, stockings and suspenders is not as outlandish as it might seem. I can recall seeing a woman in shorts and wearing stockings and suspenders playing tennis. In those days women virtually never went out without wearing a hat and stockings and tights had not come into fashion. When watching I simply had the impression that everyone involved is thoroughly enjoying what they are doing. It's as if they have moved beyond acting and singing into being themselves as real people.

Composing and presenting a work within a work is never going to be easy and, yet, this Glyndebourne production, with its clever blending of singing, acting, costumes and stagecraft. has made it seem all so effortless in its inspiring interpretation of the glorious music of Richard Strauss, who loves to 'build up' to things, beginning with talking and then leading up into a glorious crescendo as in the finale when Ariadne (Soile Isokoski) meets up with Bacchus, brilliantly played by Sergey Shorokhodov. It is difficult to see how any of this could have been done any better. It's as if there's something special about Glyndebourne that causes so many people to be especially happy about being involved in its productions. Be that as it may, this recording is certainly 'a must' for all opera lovers.
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on 5 January 2016
This is a faultless and wonderful Glyndebourne achievement. It baffles me how they consistently find these standards and break new ground in artistic merit. The singing is magnificent. For me its close run but Zerbinetta / Laura Claycombe wins the 5* accolade. Such polished acting and magical singing with understated ease and conviction. But really no less credit goes to Ariadne / Soile Isokoski and Bacchus / Sergey Skorokhodov whose voices soar and writhe with the wondrous Strauss arias. Its a strange production and I suppose absurd but it works for me because of the strength of the cast and direction. The final scene is stretched and Wagnerian in a way that is incomparable in my 30 years of enjoying Ariadne. Given the cost of a seat at the Festival to enjoy this performance in such intimacy this is an amazing value DVD. Then add on the Extras - a fascinating insight into the production and privileged interview with the conductor Vladimir Jurowski who works wonders with the London Philamonic, its an essential DVD for any collection to play again and again. I'll never tire of it. The quality of the Blu Ray version is matchless.
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on 24 March 2015
It took me a while to fall in love with this production. I saw it live and in the cinema however it bowls me over. Imagine a young german composer came to England in 1939 to put on his tragic opera in the music room of an english country house. What happened to him he wrote down and made the opera you are watching out of it.
Can comedy and tragedy exist side by side on the same stage? Clearly yes. Hofmannstal is a master of stagecraft and characterisation.
Naxos is state of mind as is "Ariadne" and "Bacchus".
I have fallen in love with this version and its daring and its poignancy. Two middleaged people are healed by a surprising unexpected passion. How more Strauss can you get?
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on 19 July 2014
Watched this last night and really enjoyed it - production unusual but worked and singing superb watch out for Kate Lindsay!
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on 5 July 2015
Musically good, but how can one accept visually an ugly, sixty year old Ariadne and an equally unglamorous Bacchus. Kate Lindsey is excellent.
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on 7 April 2015
zero for OPUS ARTE
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