Christian Stückl’s production of R. Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos was first seen in the Staatsoper Hamburg last year, with Anne Schwanewilms and Johann Botha in the leading roles. It is not a particularly visually striking production (rather on the kitsch side), but cleverly conceived and showing very clear Personenregie. Athough the director says he finds Hofmannsthal incapable of being truly funny, he succeeded in making it entertaining without indulging in slapstick and in making it touching but not very schmaltzy. His intent in relating the tragic and comic aspects (and the prologue and the opera) of the work proved to be organic and dramatically effective. Only the role of Bacchus deserved a little bit more profile (I know, there is little to work with, but…).
Conductor Axel Kober likes his Strauss grand and glamorous, sometimes at the expense of his singers’ comfort. One would often feel – especially during the prologue – that a lighter and clearer sound would have made all the difference of the world. Richard Strauss himself praised Lotte Lehmann’s freedom with tempo – she was the first singer to appear in the role of the Komponist – and when one listens to the 1944 live recording from Vienna (the composer celebrating his 80th birthday in the audience), one can hear how Dr. Böhm is responsive to Maria Reining’s fluidity with tempo. That is a lesson Maestro Kober still has to learn – he rushed forward his Komponist and Ariadne, lag behind his Bacchus and made a mess of the “buffo” passages, desperately lacking clarity and a light touch. The Bacchus/Ariadne scene finally worked very well – the rich orchestral sound, the way the conductor let the music breathe, everything concurred to the right atmosphere of sensuousness and elegance.
Replacing Katja Pieweck in the last minute, Karine Babajanyan (Ariadne) proved to be a very alert actress. I would have never said that she did not have the same level of rehearsing of her colleagues. The part lies on the heavy side for her voice, though. There are moments of poor legato or dubious intonations and the tonal quality is sometimes spongy. She could be nonetheless quite compelling in key moments, especially in what regards producing floating mezza voce or adding a personal touch when the music requires more than generical involvement. Although Maria Markina is billed as a mezzo soprano, I’ve discovered that only when I googled her. Nothing in what I’ve head this evening sounded remotely near to a mezzo sound. The voice is extremely bright, not particularly rich in low and medium register and very powerful in its high register. I was going to write that, for a soprano, she should be a little bit readier to try softer dynamics in some key moments in the role of the Composer, but, well, mezzos in this role usually feel uncomfortable with those passages anyway. In any case, it is a very exciting if not very individual voice, the kind one expects to hear in German dramatic soprano repertoire. Olga Peretyatko is ideally cast as Zerbinetta – her high register is extremely pleasant, round, creamy and easy, her coloratura is impressively accurate, she has very long breath and sings with great joie de chant. Although her German is occasionally accented (extra vowels after consonants in particular), she handles the text expertly and made some very interesting turns of phrase. I don’t think she has today any rival in this role. I was surprised to hear how fresh-toned Peter Seiffert (Bacchus) sounded this evening, producing the kind of lyricism and spontaneity he rarely shows in the heavier repertoire he has preferred lately. Some exposed acuti did sound effortful, but these notes sound so with almost every tenor. Minor roles were extremely well cast – Franz Grundheber handles his part of the Musiklehrer with the talents of a diseur, Christoph Pohl strong and warm-toned as the Harlequin, Jun-Sang Han unfazed by the high tessitura of Brighella, Ida Aldrian light and dark-toned as Dryad, just to mention some names.