Music and Vision homepage Jenna Orkin: Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death - From the heights of greatness (the Juilliard School; musicians Rosalyn Tureck and Nadia Boulanger) via way-ward paths to the depths of wickedness these reminiscences will entertain and enlighten.


<<  -- 4 --  Rex Harley    DEEPLY AFFECTING


So much thought has gone into the details that it would take pages to enumerate, let alone discuss them. Fortunately, there's no need. All you have to do is read the programme interview with the director, which explains how he has drawn on sources as varied as choreographer Pina Bausch -- (think 'opening scene of Almodovar's Talk to Her') -- and the films of the Marx Brothers. The latter make a splendid appearance in Act II: a small homage to the mirror sequence in Duck Soup, and another reminder that what, and who, you think you see is rarely the whole truth.

I have heard and read criticisms of this production, and all of them seem to me to miss the point; to comment on what has not been done, or misunderstand what has. In fact, if you were to offer me a pair of boxing gloves I'd probably jump in the ring on director Neil Armfield's behalf. True, I think Zerbinetta is a bit thin and underpowered, especially in Act I; yes, I agree that the nymphs' slow-motion running in Act II probably goes on too long; all right, I admit the stars don't look like a proper firmament at the end. But even there, I could argue a reason, and not merely a practical one; namely that it may just be an homage to Schinkel's designs for The Magic Flute.

Katarzyna Dondalska (Zerbinetta) and Alice Coote (the composer). Photo © 2004 Clive Barda
Katarzyna Dondalska (Zerbinetta) and Alice Coote (the composer). Photo © 2004 Clive Barda

But there is so much that's good, why cavil? Janice Watson's Ariadne is deeply affecting; Peter Hoare's Bacchus offers both power and lyricism; Alice Coote's composer manages to be both gauche and ecstatic, within a few bars' distance; the combined voices of the Commedia troupe, and of the nymphs, are beautifully matched, and demonstrate the felicity of Strauss's trio and quartet writing. (The programme interview with Carlo Rizzi points up the Mozartian in Strauss, and that fact is most in evidence here.) The chamber orchestra is on top form, bringing out all the nuances of the composer's orchestral writing: there are some astounding effects, notably the use of the harmonium during Ariadne's extended lament. Rizzi has encouraged the musicians to think how each phrase they play fits into the whole, in particular how they can assist each other when one instrument takes over from another in the shaping of a longer musical phrase.

Janice Watson as Ariadne. Photo © 2004 Clive Barda
Janice Watson as Ariadne. Photo © 2004 Clive Barda

I could go on. Much better if you go and see for yourselves, and augment that experience with the excellent contributions in the printed programme. All I would add is that, by the end I found myself on the verge of tears. The young man I once was would have been amazed, but then he was a young man inclined to cynicism as a way of protecting himself from deeper feelings, especially where opera was concerned.

Copyright © 5 October 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


Welsh National Opera's 2004 production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos opened at Cardiff's New Theatre on 11 September 2004. Further performances in Swansea (Grand Theatre, 15 October), Belfast (Grand Opera House, 20 and 23 October), Oxford (New Theatre, 30 October), Southampton (The Mayflower, 4 November), Llandudno (North Wales Theatre, 11 November), Birmingham (The Hippodrome, 18 November), Liverpool (Empire Theatre, 3 December) and Bristol (The Hippodrome, 7 December 2004). Information from


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