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Strauss: Ariadne Auf Naxos [DVD] 
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“The original, longer version of the opera was played, but instead of Hofmannsthal’s adaptation of Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Bechtolf has devised a fascinating entertainment that incorporates drama, most of Strauss’s delectable score, and dance. … It incorporates elements of Molière’s play and text from the later prologue, with which he and Strauss salvaged their hybrid flop to produce the masterpiece we know today. In the abstract, it might sound rarefied, but in the theatre, it proved entrancing.”
- The Sunday Times
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I should have read the advance publicity for this set for it was not what I expected and I suspect that it will not be what most potential purchasers expect or want, despite its considerable strengths.
I am not in general a fan of opera on Blu-ray/DVD unless it is a production that attracts and is unavailable on cd. Thus the prospect of Kaufmann and Emily Magee in a work I love to distraction was a very attractive one, especially when the orchestra is the VPO.
As others have explained, the original 1911 version consisted of Hofmannsthal's freely adapted version of Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme presented as the full play with incidental music by Strauss somewhat based on Lully (though Strauss wrote in a letter "I've got old Lully open in front of me but there is not much I can use") followed by the opera of Ariadne auf Naxos in a version in which Mr. Jourdain, the butt of the satire makes spoken interjections.
It was not a critical success for perhaps obvious reasons, though as to an extent in Rosenkavalier, Strauss had developed Neo-Classicism 10 years or more before it became recognised as a genre attributed to Stravinsky!
Wisely for us all, Strauss and Hofmannsthal reworked the piece into the 1915 version we know and love so well. There has been a highly successful recording, now re-issued at mid-price of a semi-reconstruction of the original version conducted by Nagano with Margaret Price, Gosta Wimbergh and -Sumi Jo!
More of her anon.
This 2012 Salzburg Production devised by " Regie Theater" Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf is a hybrid-he has adapted the original play (and shortened it thankfully!) by introducing a ubiquitous device of it " being in the mind", in this case of a visible Hofmannsthal who for once is not a mad character but is explaining the plot to cheer up a grieving Countess whom he is trying to woo.
The setting is pleasant enough, it is all terribly clever-it just lacks all the music of the later Prologue!
The Composer is a moping long-haired male loon who wants kicking-off the stage for preference, and only Strauss's brief musical interjections sustain interest.
We lose the later Overture of course, and the music, such as it is, is familiar from the later expanded and recomposed suite " Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme"-NOT to be called Der Burger Als Edelmann under Strauss's instructions.
The Opera fares better, and it is more or less the earlier version complete with Mr Jourdain and guests-and the composer, and the Countess, and Hofmannsthal, and the Major-Domo etc. making for a very crowded stage in the compact Mozart Haus!
The Vienna Philharmonic plays like angels-this was the last Salzburg Festival prior to retirement for veteran Principal Cellist Franz Bartolomey whom I was delighted to see in the pit alongside Rainer Kuchl.
Daniel Harding conducts sympathetically-perky in the style of Bohm.
The stage set is composed of melting pianos in the style of Dali, and the costumes are attractive enough-it's a decent if chaotic stage picture.
Emily Magee is a fine Ariadne, fulsome of tone and very good indeed in the acting department.
She is not as good as Janowitz, Norman, Voigt or Price but I have no complaints.
The Comedia dell' Arte troupe is excellent as are the Naiads and Echo.
Jonas Kaufmann enters dressed as a cross between Peter Pan and The Riddler from Batman, and is a very virile Bacchus indeed. His voice has become beefier and in saying less innately beautiful that is not a criticism-it is what happens to tenors as they take on more heroic and more taxing roles.
The longer duet with Ariadne holds no fears for him and he soars through it with firm upper notes-but yes, there is a hint of strain towards the end! He is human.
I have left comment about the Zerbinetta of Romanian Elena Mosuc to this point. It is perhaps unkind to advise that her costume does her no favours, but it is the voice that matters.
Back to Sumi Jo. No-one has so far commented on the fact that in the first version, Strauss set Zerbinetta's big numbers (there are 2 in this version) an OCTAVE HIGHER than in the revised version of "Grossmachtige Prinzessin" which he revised for the second version.
Sumi Jo sings it with dazzling ease at the higher pitch on the Nagano recording.
Mosuc sings it an octave lower, but I am astonished as to why no reviewers have commented on how poor her top notes are-and there are a lot more of them in the earlier version!!
Her voice spreads alarmingly near the top of the stave, undoing for me all the good characterisation she achieves otherwise. This role if any needs to be sung with technical brilliance-Gruberova, Battle, Geszty and Sumi Jo show us how, and Dessay shows us a more powerful "Marlene Dietrich" version-all brilliantly sung. Mosuc is sadly deficient.
I find the interventions of Jourdain into big numbers irritating, and the stage picture, though not offensive, is not compelling either!
So, just be careful before you order. If you want a filmed Ariadne of the 1915 Version I suggest the Bohm in the venerable Fillipo Sanjust Vienna Production with Janowitz, Gruberova and Kollo.
If you are curious about the original version, the Nagano CD version is where to start.
I had hoped that this Blu-ray would provide a sufficiently musical experience for me to want to return to it on that basis, but it doesn't especially as the operatic Prologue is missing.
The opera itself has enough drawbacks despite its many strengths also to rule it out of contention.
It's pretty enough visually with nothing to make the hackles rise, but overall a disappointment.
Sound quality is excellent as is picture on my copy
I'm not suggesting that there is no enjoyment to be had, but there should be more, so be careful which version you choose!! 3 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
Max Reinhardt the great German producer, had transformed the Dresden production of Der Rosenkavalier. So to thank him, Hofmannsthal created a play and 30 minute opera; the former to be his translation of Moliere's Le bourgeois gentilhomme with incidental music by Richard Strauss. The composer would also create the music for the opera Ariadne auf Naxos. Here there would be a mixture of opera seria with commedia dell'arte. The opera was conceived as entertainment after the dinner that concludes the play. However, before the opera, in prose the composer and dancing master were told by the footman of Jourdain, the Nouveau Riche owner, that the opera and dancing were to be played at the same time. This first version performed in 1912, lasted over six hours. The 30 minute opera had developed into a 90 minute one. The public did not like it. Hense Hofmannsthal created a new version. He eliminated Jourdain and transfered the action from the 17th to 19th century Vienna. The prologue contained the original link between the play and opera. Also, there were changes to the opera, which are restored in this bluray 1912 version. Thus, it is all very complicated.
The version by the stage director Sven-Eric Bechtolf is extremely clever and sophisicated, nothing to frighten the more traditional minded. The synopsis explains that Hofmannsthal feels drawn to Countess Ottonie, a widow completely buried in her grief, so he attempts to lift her spirits. He reads to her the plot of the opera he is working on, based on Moliere's Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. The characters come to life, and step through the huge window. Thus, Hofmannsthal and Ottonie are dressed in pre World war one clothing and the Moliere characters in 17th Century dress. Hoffmansthal becomes involved in the play which is about Jourdain, who has to rise in his new station. Tailors fit him out in the latest fashion, also he employs teachers to instruct him in aristocratic manners and how to fence. He even thinks of having an affair with a Marquise. His wife frustrates him in this department. ACT 2.Here Countess Ottonie enters the play. This is the Act from which the Prologue of the 1916 version is taken. But here there are no arias, just prose. Hofmannsthal explains the meaning of art in our world. How a actor has to leave behind his every day concerns to create an illusion. Then he brings to life his characters from Elextra, Salome and so forth. Music by Richard Strauss is sprinkled throughout the two Act play. We know it today, as the Le Bourgeois gentilhomme suite (1918).This is merely the play.
The opera is longer then the 1916 version, AND SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT. The staging actually has 17th century seating at the back of the stage, with stairs going down the middle, with two velvet curtains hanging at the very back, and trees outside. Both sides of the stage give the impression that this is a theatre. The small stage has two piano's banked up to make a cave for Ariadne, with sand around it. Also, the same on the other side. She is dressed in a pre First World war grey dress, the same colour as Countess Ottonie's dress, who is hovering nearby. When Ariadne sings Es gibt ein Reich, Ottonie's eyes fill up with tears. Why you may ask. Because Ariadne has been abandoned by Theseus and is grief stricken, as is Ottonie. From the seats, the Nouveau Riche Jourdain keeps interupting the first major aria of Ariadne, for it is too sad for him. I did mention the 1912 version was different. Next to him is the major -domo whom he removes and puts him behind him. At the back sits the composer. All three are dressed in 17th century costumes.
Hofmannsthal is dressed in a pre World war one costume wanders around, for he has brought to life his own creations. Sitting on the seats are the clowns in bright clothing,as well as Zerbinetta, dressed in a bright red ball bottom and black top,with a black hat. Naiad/Dryad/Echo are dressed in different colours, dark pink, light pink, also white, with hats of very long feathers standing upright. Bacchus wears a tiger like jacket with pants, shows Ariadne the way to love, and in turn Ottonie.
The acting is superb. Emily Magee, the Prima donna in Act 2 does not sing, but in Act 3 in the opera, obviously she does as Ariadne. She is rated one of the top three Straussian soprano's today. The other two are Fleming and Schwanewilms. Zerbinetta is Elena Mosuc, who fits the role to perfection. She along with Magee are in the very modern version of this opera, conducted by Von Dohnanyi in 2006 at the Zurich Opera House. Jonas Kaufmann is excellent as Bacchus, after all he is the best tenor of his generation. He captures this role like no other tenor I have heard. But the love duet is unlike the 1916 version. Naiad, Dryad and Echo. Eva Liebau, Marie Chappuls and Eleonora Buratto are very good, as are the clowns.
The orchestra has just 36 players as requested by the composer. Sometimes, like Levine in his version on DVD with Jessye Norman, use the entire orchestra. Daniel Harding conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in such a manner, that is not too slow or swift, basically depends on the tempi required. He seems to revel in this new approach to this opera. The sound is first rate as is the bluray picture. I use a 42 inch screen, with Sennheiser 170 earphones. I have actually listened and watched this entire play and opera, all 3 hours 12 minutes of this Salzburg Festival production, recorded 31st July-5th August 2012. If you like Hofmannsthal and Strauss, this bluray will enable you to view how they put the 1916 version together. Well performed and unusual. Highly recommended for when will get a chance to hear and see the 1912 version.
REGION CODE World wide. SUBTITLES: English, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese. AUDIO: Lpcm 2.O and DTS HD Master Audio. Picture 16.9.
REFERENCES: Ewen,D. The World of 20th Century Music. 1968.prentice-Hall. Holden,A.(Ed) The Penguin Opera Guide.1995. Viking. Sadie, S. (Ed) The Grove Book of operas. 2009. Oxford University Press.
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