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Customer Review

on 29 November 2010
We're lucky: there are no fewer than seven versions of Strauss' gorgeous 'Ariadne auf Naxos' currently available on DVD. This is not one of the best. It's difficult to give stars to something as complex as an opera DVD recording, which might excel in terms of cast, production, recording quality, or any number of other factors: these two are due largely to the presence of Natalie Dessay, perhaps the best Zerbinetta around. For the rest, I found the production uninteresting and the orchestra to sound uninvolved, whilst the remaining singers are all bettered by those on other recordings.

If you're after a traditional production, Karl Böhm's 1965 Salzburg Festival performance is the one to go for: black-and-white picture, but surprisingly decent sound, and a fine cast. This is probably `Ariadne' not a million miles from how Strauss himself experienced it (he certainly heard Bohm conduct it). If you have to watch in colour, try James Levine's earlier Met recording featuring Jessye Norman in fine voice - although the acting here is rudimentary, and it has easily the least good Zerbinetta in the breathy, hammy Kathleen Battle. Probably the best all-round cast is on Böhm's later recording, from Vienna ( it includes Gundula Janowitz, René Kollo and Edita Gruberova), which is based on a vintage production from the Staatsoper; however, this is unfortunately one of those 1970s opera films featuring the singers miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack. I've seen worse lip-synching, but it adds a distracting layer of artificiality.

For the more adventurous, the two versions in non-traditional productions are both very good. The Dresden production conducted by Colin Davies sets the work at a private view in an art gallery and is a stimulating take on the `art-for-art's-sake' theme found in the opera's Prologue: the orchestra play lovingly, but the cast is not of the best (Sophie Koch's Composer excepted). The Zurich production conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi is very satisfying: the opera is here set in Zurich's Kronenhalle restaurant (about 200 m from the Opernhaus), where Ariadne (Emily Magee) has clearly been stood up. The orchestra is terrific, and whilst the singers may not be household names, all-round this is one of the better casts available.

Leinsdorf's Boston recording is for completists and Beverly Sills fans only: it's the earlier (1912) version of the opera, which it is always interesting to hear, but it's a concert performance and is probably best enjoyed with the picture off lest one be distracted by what passed for evening wear in 1969.
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4.3 out of 5 stars