<< -- 3 -- Rex Harley DEEPLY AFFECTING
Theoretically, the compromise should be a disaster. How after all, can the tragic creatures of High Art and the comic buffoons of street theatre do anything but destroy each others' work, dependent as it is on such diverse responses from the audience? If the buffoonery is too droll, the tragedy will appear pompous and overblown; if the tragedy touches us, the clowning will appear not funny but embarrassing. It seems like that old conundrum about the immovable object and the unstoppable force: in a consistent universe, they are not merely incompatible but mutually exclusive.
That it does work is down to two things: 1) the fact that a stage is its own, hermetic world, untrammelled by the assumed verities of the world outside, and 2) all the characters, whatever their roles, are actors assuming those roles. It is most important that Ariadne auf Naxos is seen as a performance within a performance; that we are only allowed to witness it in the context established by Act I. As a result, we can never lose sight that what unites all the people on the stage are their very human desires, fears, ambitions, loves and heart-aches. There is no Ariadne: only a woman who plays Ariadne. Equally, because we are aware that the whole thing, Acts I and II together, is only theatre, we know that nothing and no-one is real, not even the young composer who has supposedly written the piece.
It's like a trick done with mirrors, and it takes a fine production to pull it off. One of the distinguishing features of this particular production is the care which has gone into giving even minor characters a clearly defined existence, and a purpose, in both acts. You could go to this Ariadne again and again, and, by concentrating on the progress of a different character on each occasion, come away with a subtly different perspective on the piece.
A scene from 'Ariadne' showing (front stage, from the left) Peter Hoare (Bacchus) and Alice Coote (the composer). Photo © 2004 Clive Barda
To take one example. Each of the three nymphs who attend Ariadne is distinctly identified by title: nyad, dryad and echo. The dryad, sung (ravishingly) by Arlene Rolph, spends a lot of time on-stage in Act I though she sings relatively little. What she does do is act as a foil for the tantrums taking place around her: balancing on one leg; trying to calm herself with breathing exercises; fluttering off in indignation with her fellow nymphs -- and all this in a mask of white face-make-up. In fact, she shows all the commedia skills which her buffo counterparts will reveal in Act II.
Copyright © 5 October 2004
Rex Harley, Cardiff UK