Cher Public

Female on the beach

Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos started life as a favor to the great theatrical producer Max Reinhardt who had saved the world premiere of Der Rosenkavalier in Dresden in 1911. Reinhardt was now being given his choice of a musical/theatre piece to revive for the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. His choice would be Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme with Hugo Von Hofmannsthal providing the new adaptation of the text and Strauss contributing incidental music in the manner of Lully and a final divertissement on the classical Ariadne.

Our musical history books show us that this exciting new hybrid entertainment eventually happened at the Stuttgart Court Theatre ballooning into a nearly five hour performance that left the audience, who were there mostly for their Strauss, in a state of benumbed frustration.  Even with judicious cutting in a number of other venues, including London under Sir Thomas Beecham, this version never found success.

Hofmannsthal finally lit upon the idea of dropping the Molière completely and writing a prologue to set up the action of the opera proper to explain the juxtaposition of the commedia dell’arte troupe and the grand opera figures therein. This version, premiering in Vienna in October of 1916, met with no more real success than the first in spite of featuring the original Aridane of Maria Jeritza and making a star of the relatively unknown Lotte Lehmann (substituting at the last moment) as the Composer.

It seems astonishing that it really didn’t catch on as a repertory staple until Karl Bohm started championing it in the 1960’s.  Now the supreme property of soprano fanciers for whom it gives the rare opportunity to enjoy two, if not three, great Strauss stylists in the course of a single evening in a veritable ‘greatest hits’ collection of arias. We eagerly await whomever is ready to abandon themselves to the rocks of Naxos and Strauss’ opera with its endlessly unfurling streamers of melody.  Some, perhaps, should have been discovered on the island a mite earlier in their careers as is the case with this new release from our friends at Decca.

Musically this performance can’t be slighted. Christian Thielemann has proved himself to be the preeminent Strauss interpreter of the current generation of conductors and he’s in striking  form here. He has the reduced forces of the Staatskapelle Dresden in the pit and they have an extraordinary way with this sinewy score and its fleeting snatches of melody gathering and interlacing into the orgiastic finale we expect from Strauss’ writing.

He keeps most of the playing to modest levels so we can hear the transparencies in the writing for chamber orchestra. The keyboard players on the piano, celesta and harmonium should especially be singled out for praise. The expression on Thielemann’s face when he takes his position in the pit is almost that of childlike glee at his assignment and he shows enormous respect to the orchestra both in the pit directly at the end of the first act and at the calls. It’s a glorious musical presentation on every level and he conducts with relish.

Which may be why I was so disappointed in the direction and set design of Philippe Arlaud.  The prologue starts in a vaguely Bauhaus influenced backstage area that’s really just a series of beige flats dropped down from the flies on a very shallow playing space dominated stage center by a grand piano half out of its packing crate and perched as if it’s about to slide down a small flight of risers. A full-size make-up mirror takes up stage left. Arlaud just keeps the whole thing as busy as possible with a small army of backstage people having a multitude of interactions distracting from the actual plot. Some of it’s funny, especially when a character opens its mouth to speak who you know doesn’t actually have any lines and then gets interrupted.

The beige flats get pulled up for the opera proper to reveal even more of them on the Busby Berkeley staircase leading upstage in true MGM fashion. The evening’s guests seated on the top most levels watching the action below. It’s all enormously sterile with moderne office furniture chairs scattered about.  A big wooden crate center stage with the word “Insel” stencilled on it hardly challenges those of us who don’t speak German but are good guessers.

Andrea Uhmann provides the mostly monochromatic costumes that make up for in good taste what they lack in creativity.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the venerable René Kollo, no stranger to the Island of Naxos himself and dapper in his grey morning coat, as the Major Domo. He knows how to do imperious. He also plays well off of the Music Master of Eike Wilm Schulte who’s exactly the kind of seasoned pro you want in that part.

The commedia dell’arte players have some good staging moments but nothing inspiring and the Harlequin of Nikolay Borchev reveals a virile, if unsettled, bantam-weight baritone that perhaps hasn’t found its core sound yet. He handles his little solo in the opera  well but didn’t erase any memories I had of more polished interpreters. The rest of the bunch are just Laurel & Hardy all over the place and some of it’s funny.  Ditto the trio of Naiad, Dryad and Echo who are all efficient singers but have been given a mountain of distracting stage business to carry out.

Who knew that if you put a black curly wig on Sophie Koch and added a dark suit that she comes out looking exactly like Gustavo Dudamel? It’s a funny, and wholly apt, coincidence that Arlaud couldn’t help exploiting and it gives her performance as the Composer a uniqueness that made it feel more current than usual. Koch sings the role beautifully and avoids the browbeaten quality that some mezzos acquire because of it’s high tessitura. I especially enjoyed her exchanges with the Zerbinetta but disliked the fact that the director keeps insinuating her silently into the action of the opera proper. They try too hard and just don’t make it work.

What does work, and almost perfectly at that, is the Zerbinetta of Jane Archibald. With her Louise Brooks bob, ostrich feathered skirt and Bob Mackie sequined halter top, she squares her shoulders and conquers the stage with sheer zest. The voice is very firm and brilliant on top. She is given a lot of business in her big showpiece “Großmächtige Prinzessin’”—so much in fact that some of the gags don’t come off.

She has trouble untying some gloves from where they’ve been fastened (slap the prop man backstage) and a love note that she’s supposed to snatch from the trombone player’s slide flutters into the pit before she can catch it, murdering what should have been a cute bit. But much of it is charming and she makes the best of every moment she’s on stage.  If she lacks the laser pointer staccatos of Gruberova and Dessay or, if her pitch very occasionally strays she certainly makes up for it in verve. She’s especially funny and adept at insinuating herself into Ariadne’s personal space to the latter’s very comic disapproval. Brava!

Robert Dean Smith makes a very good showing in the generally thankless role of The Tenor/Bacchus. At his first entrance in the opera he starts carefully but then, who can blame him? It’s a short but strenuous sing that most tenors of his ilk avoid with the same avidity they do Wagner’s Siegfried. He gets his sea legs fairly quickly though and rises to full Heldentenor geschrei. I heard him as the Emperor in Frosch in LA not too long ago and his singing is very easy on the ears compared to some in his repertoire. Even in the highest reaches he still keeps the stress out of his throat and an open tone. The costume designer throws a Roman sash/toga around his beige business suit to denote his lofty status which works well enough. After leaving half his voice on the stage he’s nearly defeated by his final phrase but he’s in good company there.

Which brings us to our evening’s strandee, Renèe Fleming. The Beautiful Voice announced early on that this would be her only staged Aridane which I think is a shame because there’s room for improvement. Also, knowing that the production was being filmed for posterity perhaps raises expectations unnaturally high.

I’m an enormous fan of Ms. Fleming and I think some of her early work with Robert Carsen was among her best. I appreciated how she enjoyed singing repertoire slightly off the beaten path and acted as an astute technician for her strong lyric-spinto voice. I especially enjoyed how she keeps the bottom half of the voice hooked up to the top instead of essentially ignoring it the way some lazy sopranos do. She’s certainly made an indelible impression in the Strauss oeuvre and this performance won’t affect her stature in that holy shrine.

But I do wish we’d found her on the island of Naxos perhaps ten years earlier. But then I could give you a list of the singers I’ve said that about over the years. The role of Ariadne, while short, is a virtual breathalyzer test for sopranos. You want a resplendent voice like Iguazu Falls, just torrents of sound.  After singing almost nothing in the short prologue practically the first thing out of her mouth in the opera itself is the opening phrase of “Ein schönes war.” The length of this phrase would make mere mortals call for an oxygen tank and the attendance of a nurse. She does not disappoint. But the early part of the act finds her off her form slightly and not able to match up the extremes of Strauss’ rollercoaster tesitura.

She’s striving to make the voice work at the climactic ascending phrase of “Es gibt ein Reich”  and halfway through the scale she actually takes a catch breath when she thinks no one’s looking (?). Beloveds, she gasped and then so did I. If you’ve never heard the aria before she’s so cunning about how she does it (turning oh so slightly upstage) I don’t think you’d notice but it’s there. Forever. By the time she’s into the duet with the tenor you can tell she’s firing on all cylinders and she’s gotten her second wind (or first, as the case may be). The rest of her performance is as refulgent as you want it to be except for an oddly phrased final “Was hängt von mir” that’s a little more prosaic than poetic.

She’s genuinely funny in her interplay with the Zerbinetta and especially her exasperation as she’s led around the stage and lectured about the male sex but the old school grandezza we expect in the prologue, and most of the opera frankly, doesn’t come naturally to her.  Her arias, which should find her lost in reverie, are played straight out to the audience and it’s a shame to find a singer who’s commonly criticized for an over-emotional performance style, which I enjoy, slightly under-powered.

My biggest bone of contention, however, is with the wretched job that Brian Large does with directing the video version of this performance. I don’t know if he is preemptively trying to shield the home viewer from an overly fussy production but that’s not his job. He rarely moves the camera out of a two shot and you hardly ever see the entire stage, especially in the prologue. It’s disorienting to never get a feeling for the set or the layout.  The finale is almost completely scuppered by this approach and it just left me completely scratching my head. There’s a lot going on and we only get a sidelong glance at times.

The Blu-ray picture is razor-sharp and especially good with the bright lighting and metallic costumes. Sound could have been a bit better at times but, frankly, I blame the miking there. No extra features and of course subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese and German (if you want to sing along).  There’s a lot of competition in the catalog with this title and I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite but for fans of La Renèe this is our only chance to see her on the island of Naxos.

  • bassoprofundo

    Honestly. How is it remotely possible that on the intro lead paragraphs on the main page, there is not one single mention of the words “Baden-Baden,” “DVD,” “this production,” or even “Fleming”? If the picture weren’t there, this would have easily passed as the beginning of some attempted historical essay on Ariadne auf Naxos, not a review of a DVD of a particular production.

    • armerjacquino

      The picture is there though.

    • But that picture of the DVD cover is an awfully big clue, isn’t it? I’ll even bet (heck, I’d even make a Romney-sized bet) that Patrick Mack knew it would be there. There are many ways to begin a review. You really seem to choose the most inane things to get huffy about.

      • bassoprofundo

        m.croche, it’s really not a big deal, I just find it weird; of course there are many ways to begin a review but if you go back through the archives, more than half (and that’s being conservative) of these DVD reviews start with some historical account of said opera, “Back in 1825 Rossini had only just set down to start composing such and such, a curious development considering such and such war being waged around him, let’s all turn to note 26 on page 1,317 of our compendium to discover more about … oh and by the way JDF sang an aria in the DVD.” I mean really.

        For example, why not begin the review with this?

        “Who knew that if you put a black curly wig on Sophie Koch and added a dark suit that she comes out looking exactly like Gustavo Dudamel?”

        That is funny, grabs your attention, isn’t wasting time. The very fact that the review is published here means that most people know at least some about Ariadne auf Naxos, and if we’re really that interested in its history we could find out more about it from a few words typed into Google, for free. What we *can’t* find out for free is how good this production is and how good this DVD is; for that we need the reviewer to tell us. But we don’t need a historical lesson of every opera before the review, it’s tedious and in Patrick’s case quite sad, because the rest of the review is marvelous reading.

        Suppose there are multiple DVDs of a given opera, say, Rigoletto. Are we going to get a historical recap at the beginning of each review?


        it’s just amateurish, IMO, “hey, look what I know about this opera, I’ll educate you about it first before I then give my opinion on the actual performance.”

        • That’s a lot of words for “not a big deal”.

          Anyway, the surest way to read reviews that are written precisely the way you like them is to write the reviews yourself. Why don’t you try your hand at it here?

          • bassoprofundo

            >>”That’s a lot of words for “not a big deal”.”

            touche. :)

          • Patrick Mack

            Dear M. Croche, Touchè indeed. Thank you very much.

            Dear Bassoprofundo, I was raised on Andrew Porter’s reviews in the New Yorker. Almost all of which have been published in book form. He was an extraordinary education and a wry wit as well.

            His reviews would commonly start with,”When Gluck sat down to write thus-and-such in 1760″ and then 2 full pages of performance history later the summation of,”Last night at Carnegie Hall”.

            I find all the back story about these works fascinating and since no one could EVER accuse me of being a serious opera critic I try, at the very least, to do some set up for that person out there, who was like me, who had never heard of Ariadne to make it intriguing. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

          • bassoprofundo

            yes but Patrick, the author’s job, regardless of his level, is to know his audience.

            Very few people utilize the New Yorker as their primary source of information about the opera world. The New Yorker is a variety magazine that deals with everything from politics to pop music to cartoons to the weather.

            Whereas Parterre is a blog whose audience reads it *solely in order to discuss opera.* No one says “I wonder if it’ll rain tomorrow; I’ll go check Parterre,” or, “did the Mets win last night? I’ll go look on Parterre.” No. They come here in order to read about and discuss opera.

            I still question the relevance of long historical accounts of operatic history as an intro to a review, but let’s just go with it for a second. Even if this were a worthy approach, well, according to your comment, this is relevant because in the New Yorker, people simply didn’t know much about, say, Ariadne auf Naxos, so a little history would help them become acquainted with the work at large before reading about a given performance in particular. But this just proves my point for me. If someone reads the New Yorker in order to, say, read a biography on a given public person, and then keeps flipping the pages and happens upon an opera review, then maybe (maybe) some historical context is relevant.

            No one, however, comes to *Parterre* without having at least some sort of interest in opera beforehand that pushed them to come here. It’s the difference between passively flipping through the pages and browsing through an opera review versus intentionally saying “I want mit Absicht (as the Germans says) to go to Parterre in order to read about opera.” (in fact there is a whole sub-branch of philosophy that deals with action theory, but that’s neither here nor there).

            So if you are intentionally coming to Parterre, you probably already have some interest in opera. Someone will surely pop up and say “but wait! there are all sorts of lurkers and newbies who might not know very much about opera and still browse the site.” First of all, I doubt that even a sizable minority of Parterre’s regular viewers are those who don’t know much about opera. But let’s just assume that that were true. Well, what then is the purpose of these reviews? Surely if you were only moderately interested in opera, you would have more important things to do with your money than buy an opera DVD. So let’s just be intellectually honest and accept that the target audience for these reviews consists overwhelmingly of people like you, people like me, and the other regular posters, people who know plenty about opera, have probably seen Ariadne or at least listened to it in a broadcast or recording etc.

            These people don’t need a long historical introduction, because they are not here for a broad purpose like readers of the New Yorker. And, if we want to be inclusive of the newbies, really, honestly, which intro seems more interesting?

            1) “Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos started life as a favor to the great theatrical producer Max Reinhardt who had saved the world premiere of Der Rosenkavalier in Dresden in 1911. Reinhardt was now being given his choice of a musical/theatre piece to revive for the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.”


            2) “Who knew that if you put a black curly wig on Sophie Koch and added a dark suit that she comes out looking exactly like Gustavo Dudamel?”

            It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? The second one is funny, it grabs you, it makes you want to read more. The first is dry, tedious, and doesn’t even give the idea that this is going to be a review of a production that took place in the 21st century, not in the 20th.

            Obviously very few if any of the reviewers on Parterre are professional critics, they just enjoy writing and so La Cieca lets them. But it seems like when I read these reviews they come across as some amateur attempting to mimic the way they imagine a professional critic would write. Patrick openly admits so in his comment, channeling Andrew Porter. And the thing is, he doesn’t even need to! Patrick’s writing is witty, enjoyable, etc—just be yourself Patrick! And if the other reviewers would do the same, I think they’d find their reviews would be much more “professional” than they might have thought.

          • Batty Masetto

            Patrick, I’m always delighted with your reviews. I will treasure “an unfinished technique with a shout on top” forever, or at least till the dementia gets worse.

          • CruzSF

            Patrick, just keep writing the reviews in the way you do. I find the background information you provide and the wide-ranging discussion of performance history interesting, even when the particular opera under examination isn’t one of my favorites.

          • grimoaldo

            Even though parterre readers may be very interested in opera and more knowledgeable on the subject than most, it cannot be assumed that every reader here knows all about the historical background of every opera.It is perfectly possible that someone may be a big fan of Puccini, say, but Ariadne auf Naxos is new to him or her and appreciates knowing a little of how it came to be created.
            I think the historical background of Rigoletto is fascinating, I never get tired of hearing about it, myself.

          • Basso, let me get this straight: you wrote all those words about Patrick’s opening paragraphs because you were worried that readers’ time might be wasted?

            Hoo boy.

          • bassoprofundo

            well m.croche, I wrote all of it in the hopes that readers’ collective time won’t be wasted in the future with these ubiquitous historical intros. But it seems no one cares. On the contrary! you all seem to *love* hearing about what so-and-so had for breakfast in 1911 and how many shits Mozart took before he started writing the music for “Il mio tesoro” etc. Surely there is no purpose for musicology journals now, as we can just write all of the historical stuff at the beginning of reviews, right?

            Anyway, there’s a much better way to incorporate historical info if the writer really feels it’s necessary. Instead of doing what Patrick (and many others) have done in their reviews, i.e., “OKAY EVERYONE HERE ARE THREE PARAGRAPHS OF HISTORY, YOU WILL FIND OUT WHO SANG AFTER I THROW SOME DATES AT YOU THAT YOU WILL QUICKLY FORGET. OK, I’M DONE, NOW THAT I HAVE FINISHED I WILL TALK ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE IN QUESTION”—instead of this, you could write something like this:

            “Keenlyside topped off his impeccable embodiment of the Count with a superlative, show-stopping “Hai gia’ vinta la causa,” opting for the 1789 Vienna version which, interestingly enough, Mozart himself eschewed in favour of the traditional “Hai gia’ vinta” usually performed in Nozze di Figaro.”

            See how I did that? the first and primary reference is Keenlyside’s performance, but the historical aspect is worked in as a subplot of the performance. It flows much better than being thumped over the head with facts and historical anecdotes for two paragraphs before even finding out who sang in the damn DVD, let alone how well they sang.

          • armerjacquino

            If the example you give represents the impeccable embodiment of your critical writing then, interestingly enough, I’ll happily eschew it.

          • quoth the maven

            Basso--I don’t know what sort of financial arrangments La Cieca makes with her reviewers, but I would guess that Mr. Mack’s chief motivation for writing this review was the opportunity it offered to share his reactions with interested people. This he has done, admirably, and I dare say all of us who have read it know a damn sight more about the Thielemann/Arlaud/Fleming Ariadne than we did 24 hours ago. For this he should only be thanked.

            Short form: STFU

  • SilvestriWoman

    Having watched the clip of Es gibt ein Reich, I’m baffled: Did neither Fleming nor the director have a clue about the text? From my understanding -- I’ve sung 5 performances of the role, and I sang the aria for over a dozen years -- Ariadne is longing for death. Instead, Fleming is running around the stage like a hausfrau eagerly anticipating the arrival of her lover.

    As for the need for a breath, hey, it happens. I’d argue with Mack that Fleming’s voice is not a “strong lyric-spinto” but rather a strong, full lyric soprano. (This is based on having seen her live on numerous occasions over the last 20 years.) Still, considering the orchestration, Ariadne should be a perfect fit. I’ve long felt that Fleming should have spent more time and capital singing Strauss/Korngold/Janacek than Handel/Rossini/Donizetti. Perhaps if she’d spent less time rushing back and forth across the stage, waving her arms, she’d have had no problem with the climactic phrase.

    • Patrick Mack

      What’s really odd if when you run the Jessye Norman performance from the Met and see the similarities in the blocking for that one aria. #thingsthatmakeyougohmmmmm

      • SilvestriWoman

        Really? I haven’t seen that in years! Too many directors don’t appreciate the power of stillness. For me, that was an integral part of Ariadne’s dignity, especially to counter the commedia troupe.

        As to stillness, as much or more than any opera singer, the artist who taught me the most about it was Sting. It was over 20 years at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. Rather than play out to the crowd, he just stood there and sang, pulling us in. As an opera singer, I never forgot that.

  • Bill

    The review mentioned that Ariadne was not a repertory
    opera until Karl Boehm began doing it in the 1960s.
    This is true from the American performance history
    where the Met first did it in 1962 or so (with Boehm,
    Rysanek,) and Chicago in 1964 (Jochum, Crespin, Seefried, Grist). The opera also came late to Covent Garden. And it is not always a best seller at the Met for example. But it was done quite reqularly at the Vienna Opera since 1916. Then in 1943 Boehm had a new
    production there with Reining, Lorenz, Seefried, Noni,
    Kunz which played there regularly and simultaneously in another production at what is now the Volksoper (with Welitsch as Komponist, Grob-Prandl in the title role) until the bombing of the Opera House.
    After the war was over in 1947 Krips lead a new production with Reining, Seefried, Schwarzkopf (as
    Zerbinetta) and I believe that Ariadne has played
    practically every season in Vienna since that time --
    it has never ever been out of the repertory. It has had numerous productions in Salzburg, and has been regularly done in most of the German opera houses, large and small -- of course quite a fixture in Munich,
    Hamburg or Berlin. Very few German/Austrian Prima Donnas have not tackled at least one of the three leading soprano roles. It is so that Ariadne is not so frequently performed in Eastern Europe, and productions in Italy are truly a rarity.

    By the way, the Budapest Opera is having a mini-Strauss festival in May/June of 2014 with Rosenkavalier, Ariadne, Arabella, Salome, Elektra and a new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten all being
    performed within a two/three week span. That used to be
    the province of the opera house in Munich but for some reason there is less Strauss in Munich than there used to be. Vienna has almost all of Strauss’ operas in repertory including occasionally Capriccio, Schweigsame Frau and Daphne -- and has forthcoming plans for a new Elektra with Stemme and a new Die Aegyptische Helene (Soprano not announced as of yet
    but I suppose Stemme might be a logical choice as she recently stated in an interview that Vienna was her
    second home and her recent Bruennhildes and Isolde there this Spring have been rapturously received).

    The other interesting aspect about Ariadne is that
    almost all of the recordings of it which have been made are of uncommonly high quality.

    • Krunoslav

      Thanks Bill, as ever--

      To complicate your ARIADNE history a bit, it was one of the first prestige hits by the New York City Opera, which presented the US premiere in 1947 with a cast that included Ella Flesch (Ariadne) Polyna Stoska (Composer), Virginia MacWatters (Zerbinetta), Ralph Herbert ( Harlekin) and James Pease (Music Master). Maria Reining, no less, sang at later performances of this production.

      It was also done in NYC at the Little Opera Society in the mid- 50s with Mariquita Moll (a Met Freia and pal of my gay great-uncle!), Svanholm (!) and Mattiwilda Dobbs, who later sang her part at the Met. The database I consulted say that Eileen Farrell and Dobbs also did ARIADNE for them, with both Albert da Costa (Town Hall) and Jon Crain (Carnegie) in 1957-8.

      Also Lucine Amara, alongside Sena Jurinac, David Lloyd and others, sang ARIADNE at Glyndebourne in those same mid-50s years.

      All with Dr. Boehm at a safe distance.

      • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

        Just two little footnotes: I recall that NYCO did a new production in 1977 (I may be off a year or two) with the Prolog in English and the Opera auf deutsch, with Johanna Meier (remember her?) as a radiant Ariadne, and Gianna Rolandi as Zerbinetta. And let us not forget that Caballé sang it at the Met in the 1970s in the “old” (1962) production, and got to strut her comic chops for the first time as the Prima Donna, entering munching on an apple, but most memorably approaching Ariadne’s rock and then had second thoughts and tested it to see if it would support her weight before she tried to cuddle into it (not in the production’s original stage direction!).

        • Nerva Nelli

          I hope many remember the sublime Johanna Meier, who mercifully replaced Caballe and later L. Price in some Met ARIADNE shows. A terrific Ariadne in all ways.

          Rolandi only came abroad that NYCO show after some seasons in which Zerbinetta was sung by Patricia Wise and Ruth Welting (both pretty fabulous by any standards). Bacchus was sometime Arley Reece (yikes!) but often John Alexander, who sang it superbly. Maralin Niska was the usual Composer.

          In those days, City Opera… [muffled sobs]… oh, never mind.

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            I’d totally forgotten that the NYCO production was new in 1973. I have my program from 14 October in front of me and it was, indeed, Meier, Wise, Niska, and Alexander (with Samuel Ramey as Truffaldin!).

            For some reason, I remembered it (oh come on… for some reason? shall we call it a “senior moment?”) as being new in 1975, as I have a distinct memory of dragging a reticent boyfriend to see it. I have that program, too, from 27 September, and it was Meier, Rolandi, Stapp, and Richard Kness (who?) as Bacchus.

            And now you’ve got me waxing nostalgic for the glory days of NYCO (I join your sobs), looking at all these old programs (which I had bound).

            Don’t you find it rather ironic that a right wing bigot zillionaire paid for a bunch of “improvements” to New York State Theater (I refuse to call it anything else) including improving the acoustics for opera, and then what’s left of the opera company bolted? I haven’t been to the States in a decade, so I only saw photos of the auditorium, and those new aisles were like slashes to my heart. Balanchine and Philip Johnson must be rolling…

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

            Holy crap! I just stumbled across a program from an August 1972 NYCO “Stuarda” autographed by Sills, Pauline Tinsley, Ricky DiGiuseppe, and Richard Fredericks! And I saw it again three days later.

          • calaf47

            …but the “original” Ariadne for the NYCO production was Carol Neblett, not Johanna Meier.

      • einfreund

        The first US Ariadne was in Philadelphia in 1928.

        • Camille

          With Nelson Eddy, no less….

          • Krunoslav

            Ah, my misremembering and maybe some mistakes I read in print: the NYCO 1947 show was the New York professional premiere”.

            Not only was there Nelson Eddy and co. in Philly but Juilliard with — as per Wikipedia-- Josephine Antoine as Zerbinetta, Mack Harrell as Truffaldino, and Risë Stevens as Dryad.

            Another name I can add to everyone’s recollections of the 1970s NYCO production is Susanne Marsee as the Composer.

            JML, Richard Kness was Mr. Joann Grillo and a Met cover (went on as Jean de Leydes and Don José) and comprimario (Walther in TANNHAEUSER) singing Heldentenor roles like Samson in small houses.

            Look at this all-changed-from-the prima PROPHETE cast:

            Metropolitan Opera House
            October 13, 1979

            LE PROPHETE {96}
            Jean of Leyden……….Richard Kness
            Berthe………………Rita Shane
            Fides……………….Florence Quivar
            Zacharie…………….Ara Berberian

            I would have love to have heard Quivar (good as Horne was) and Shane was, frankly, better than Scotto in this part, but Kness was not even a Chauvet, let alone a McCracken, and Berberian pretty routine ( Hines’ rusty quality by then worked well as Zacharie).

          • Krunoslav

            The Juilliard ARIADNE was in 1934, by the way…

      • Bill

        Krunoslav -- no complication but an enhancement.
        I was too young to have noticed the Ariadne
        at the City Opera in 1947 but was aware of it
        as I had seen Virginia MacWatters as a delicious
        Marietta at the time in Naughty Marietta at the
        Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn NJ.

        The City Opera production at the State Theater
        in the 1970s was a repertory stable -- Patricia
        Wise eventually left the company to join the
        Vienna State Opera (where she sang Zerbinetta occasionally but 82 Sophies between 1976 and
        1991 (before moving to Hamburg), Aminta, Zdenka
        and most of her repertory including reprises
        of Marie in The Daughter of the Regiment at the
        Volksoper following Grist and Auger. And Niska
        was a proper soprano Komponist in that same
        City Oper production.

        Opera magazine and Lord Harewood and Rosenthal
        were enthralled with the 1954 Glyndebourne Ariadne
        and Sena Jurinac’s Komponist which was playing’
        the same summer as Salzburg’s Ariadne with Seefried in the role -- Comparisons of the two were
        inevitable for those English Critics who mentioned the entire operatic world was keen on
        both singers in that role (and probably neither of whom has been surpassed since). Christa Ludwig
        followed Seefried at Salzburg in 1955 s Komponist,
        her Salzburg debut I believe.

        Julliard also had a couple of goes with Ariadne --
        one of which was the original version without the prologue -- Here the classic performance of the oriinal version in NY and Boston was that of the Boston Symphony (Leinsdorf) with
        Sills as Zerbinetta and Claire Watson proving to
        all New Yorkers what they had been missing with
        her total absence at the Met -- a remarkable
        performance at Carnegie Hall and a great personal triumph for Watson even with the popular Sills in
        the same performance warbling the extraordinarly difficult original version with ease.

        When the Chicago Lyric Opera first did Ariadne
        in 1964 (Joachim conducting) they borrowed the
        1962 Met production just for that series of

        Most of the productions of Ariadne I have seen
        have been rather conventional save for one in
        Bratislava in the last decade where the Komponist
        was a lesbian running after Zerbinetta. The
        new production of Ariadne in Budapest in April
        looked (in photographs) to be a bit extreme
        as did the new Glyndebourne production this past month.

      • Gualtier M

        On Opera-Hell I had some fun casting “Ariadne” in earlier Met decades. In 1917: Margarete Matzenauer as Ariadne (Fremstad retired from the Met in 1914 and only could have done the original version), Frieda Hempel as Zerbinetta and Geraldine Farrar as the Komponiert. Leo Slezak as Bacchus or maybe Hermann Jadlowker repeated his original role.

        In the 1940 we might have had Kirsten Flagstad as Ariadne, I was thinking that Lily Pons would be the obvious Zerbinetta but another poster felt her coloratura was too imprecise. I suggested as a substitute Miliza Korjus in her Met debut that never happened. Josephine Antoine could take over a few shows. Jarmila Novotna as a soprano Composer since some people objected to the suggestion of Rise Stevens. Melchior I can’t see bothering with Bacchus -- maybe Paul Althouse, Arthur Carron or Frederick Jagel. Torsten Ralf and Set Svanholm came to the Met in the mid-40’s so they would sing in the later revival with Helen Traubel, Erna Berger or Patrice Munsel and Novotna.

        Alfred Hertz or Artur Bodanzsky would conduct the earlier performances and Leinsdorf would take over in the 40’s.

        • armerjacquino

          Depends what point in the 40s we’re talking about- a Steber Ariadne would have been pretty sensational (or a soprano Komponist from her?)

          • Gualtier M

            I see Steber taking on the role in the fifties.

    • Regina delle fate

      As always, Bill, your overview is magisterial. The reason Munich is no longer as strong on Strauss than it was until the Sawallisch era, was the Peter Jonas disliked Strauss -- and rather bravely in Munich, openly admitted it. So, during his 16 years as Intendant, he kept the famous Kleiber/Schenk Rosenkavalier going but only did two new Strauss productions -- Ariadne auf Naxos and Elektra -- while phasing out the entire cycle built up by his predecessor (Sawallisch) and bring in almost a dozen works by Handel -- most of which have now been phased out by Jonas’s successor, Nikolaus Bachler, who is gradually reintroducing the Strauss works with recent stagings of Ariadne and Die schweigsame Frau, with a new Frau ohne Schatten imminent next season, But the days of going to Munich to see Die Aegytische Helena, Friedenstag, Die Liebe der Danae or Intermezzo are may well over. One hopes that Harteros will insist on a new Arabella and/or Capriccio in the very near future. Fortunately, many of the other German houses will do rarer Strauss in the anniversary year, 2014. I can recommend Claus Guth’s Daphne in Frankfurt which won Opernwelt’s Inszenierung des Jahres when it was new. Pity that the Deutsche Oper isn’t bringing back Kirsten Harms’s Danaë, but an Intendantenwechsel is probably also responsible for that.

      • Feldmarschallin

        There will be a new Arabella for Festspielpremiere 2015 with Lacroix doing the costumes but I forgot who is doing the production. And she will be adding Ariadne also but to the current production. Capriccio would be lovely but would also be very happy with Schwanewilms in that role.

        • bang_bang_bang

          I bet Vincent Boussard will direct 2015 Arabella. He often collaborates with Lacroix.

          • Feldmarschallin

            That could well be but the Capuletti he did here wasn’t really considered a big success and I am not sure he would be asked back. His productions are nothing spectacular and rather boring I find. For the Festspielpremiere I would think something more interesting would be offered but maybe I am wrong. Certainly a plus to get rid of the old Arabella which no one liked. I will see if I can find out who is doing it.

  • Patrick Mack

    Dear Basso, I’ve been collecting books and recordings since I was 18 yrs old. I’ve been an opera singing since I was 22. In school I had a theater arts/choral/journalism background. I also did a little editorial cartooning and set design. I have so much respect for the art form that I don’t think what I know about opera even scratches the surface and I have hundreds of recordings and books.

    There are still plenty of works I haven’t heard a note of and some of them I’ve reviewed on these pages. So research is a necessary part of the job of being a responsible critic regardless of how well known the work may be. If you want to skip to the fourth paragraph of my reviews henceforth do so with my blessing.

    I didn’t know Jeritza was the Ariadne at both premieres and I might have heard at sometime that it made Lehmann a star but for me all those things are fascinating. But, I’m the person who watches all the special features on a dvd of a film I enjoy and the more of them the better. When they review the singers backstage at the Met during intermission, like it’s a football game, I’m in heaven.

    I think Andrew Porter is considered one of the great deans of music criticism and his heyday was in the 70’s and 80’s when the New Yorker was a much more serious venture than it is now. You should try to look up his stuff. He’s really the near equivalent of a college education and hella funny in his way.

    My thanks to you for reaffirming my initial tenet that I should never, ever, ever reply in the comments section and now, having said that, I shall withdraw.

    • armerjacquino

      Please don’t.

    • SilvestriWoman

      As for Porter, let’s also give him credit for some of the best English translations around. When I had to sing Mimi in English, I winced, but Porter’s translation knocked me out -- deeply human, cutting to the core of the characters.

      • MontyNostry

        I find Porter a very crusty, and rather long-winded critic, at least in his more recent writings. It’s more about how long he’s been around and how much he’s seen (admittedly a great deal, which must be respected) than about enlightening us on the performance.

  • Camille

    Here’s a big hug and a kiss for you Patrick. Come back Mack!

    If one does not care for a featured review—one for which the reviewer is rarely remunerated—skip the review, or, better yet, write one’s very OWN review and submit it in rebuttal. It has happened before, in fact, I am thinking of a particular instance at the moment.

    BassoP, sometimes it also fatigues me to have some of this background reiterated for the umpteenth time. My solution is very simply to skip it and read the pertinent portion, but often I have found a nugget of information which I had never, ever, ever heard before, if I chance to re-read said review.

    The thing is: it’s a whole lot harder to write these little pieces than perhaps one would imagine….

    And lastly, and most importantly, thank you again for introducing me to the fabulous “Blastissimo”—why just this evening I heard Franco Corelli trumpet such a B flat in Forza.

    Cara SilvestriLady, your comments I find to be quite sage regarding Fleming.
    Myself, It’s always sounded like a full lyric with coloratura and that honking low voice which hangs out in a blue note corner! As she Herself describes it, it’s a “soft-grained” voice. [whatever that actually means]. Brava!

    • SilvestriWoman

      Cher Camille! I think she knows that it’s not that large of a voice. It was particularly evident to me when I saw her Thais at Lyric. When Hampson came one, though I never considered his voice all that large, it sounded like a mic had been turned on.

      Yes, I do believe her voice is essentially lyric. Though I believe she may have sung it once or twice years ago, it’s a pity she’s never done Jenufa. Full lyric roles -- Contessa Almaviva, Rusalka, Tatiana, Desdemona, Marschallin -- have truly played to her strengths in a way that Handel/bel canto have not. Just because your voice can move doesn’t mean you’re a coloratura… (That reminds me of a lovely anecdote from a joint interview with Brewer and Voigt before Lyric’s Frau. Turns out Brewer privately uses the Queen of the Night arias as vocalises; Voigt exclaimed; “I’ll pay to hear that!”)

  • Will

    bassoprofundo, it’s called context. I attended my first opera at eleven, adore Ariadne, attended the MET’s premiere, and have seen it at three other opera companies in the US. I have multiple recordings of it. And I STILL learned something from Patrick’s opening gambit.

    Please also remember that there are many people who frequent Parterre who specialize in certain periods and repertories but not in others. Many reserve their enthusiasm for 19th century Italian opera. Period. Some won’t go near anything French, or modern or Baroque. And there are always newcomers to opera who come to a list like Parterre hoping to learn something. That may seem strange to someone of your great and universal knowledge but it is indeed true, and I would none of us would want anyone coming here, to learn more about the art form we cannot live without, to feel unwelcome or to leave without some new and meaningful information.

  • Niel Rishoi

    I heard the clip of Fleming on YouTube. She’s in good voice. I heard the grabbed breath on ‘befreien’ and at least it doesn’t clunk; but the glottal attack on ‘Hermes’ is typical of her.

    Here is Janowitz in “Es gibt ein Reich”, which I think is ideal:

    • SilvestriWoman

      Sadly, Mr. Rishoi, that’s her latter-day style. It’s sad because it’s unnecessary. I’ve no doubt that her technique is sound. She could sing cleanly but chooses not to. As so many of us know, that wasn’t always the case. Since her voice is little changed from what it was nearly two decades ago, I believe she could still sing sing as cleanly -- and powerfully -- as she does here.

      • la vociaccia

        De gustibus. It didn’t seem very offensively-glottal to me; but of a hard H sound but the bloom on the note itself is really quite stunning. Didn’t really get to me, I guess I’m used to her manner of singing and accept it. And I truly love the quality and texture on the low G sharps

        • armerjacquino

          I think once Fleming has retired, a lot of the snark will vanish and people will appreciate the very high standard of singing she’s maintained for 20+ years.

        • Patrick Mack

          Ain’t that how it always is? Thanks for your kind words.

      • Camille

        Like pre-surgery Debbie and post-surgery Debbie, RF is also a before and after case—the before being wonderful pretty on an unusually high level.

        What happened? It’s complicated, as the saying goes.

        Looking at the PBS repeat of Aïda and wondering when she became a collage of Meg Ryan+Katie Couric+Barbara Wa-Wa.

        Olga is acting REALLY pissed off! Hard to believe Alagna is a 49 year old and they all look as they have just returned from a South Beach tanning salon replete with new hair extensions and ready for the beach!

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        I don’t agree that Fleming’s mannerisms and habits have developed in a chronological way. Her very first solo recital disc, of Mozart arias with Mackerras, is absolutely littered with them. I think that throughout her entire career, you have been just as likely to encounter clean, straight forward singing from her as fussy and mannered, with apparently no rhyme or reason as to why you get the Fleming you do on any given day. I’d hazard a guess though that it has to do with how easy she finds the repertoire, who first coached her on it, and who is conducting her, as well as the actual emotional state of the character she is performing at that moment. Where she is taxed to the limit of her essentially lyrical voice, for instance Act IV Trovatore, bigger moments in the final scene of Onegin, much of Rusalka, you tend to get very straight forward, incredibly satisfying singing from her. It’s when the orchestration is lighter, the tempo is relaxed and allows for a lot of rubato, and she’s in her upper middle comfort zone that you tend to get more indulgences, interventions and interpretative gestures from her (like the entire Marschallin, for example, or Casta Diva).

        I absolutely love Renee Fleming and over the years have got used to the habits to the extent that they no longer bother me. I enjoy the fact that she is an incredibly distinctive artist, and the funny habits are part of that. I do recall however finding her downright exasperating in a Schubert/Faure/Debussy song recital in Edinburgh in the late 1990s -- I’ll never forget the bizarre way she sort of dropped the voice after the word ‘Still’ in the line ‘Still hinter dir die pforten zu’ in Du Bist Die Ruh, and the entire programme was meddled with in a similar way. But at Rusalka at the Met in, what, 2009(?) I noticed only 1 line in the entire performance (a descending phrase in Act II) that was similarly fussy. I heard a ‘Stille Tranen’ from her just a few years back that was an absolutely miracle of sustained, pristine, impossibly long phrases.

        • rapt

          Thanks, CK, for this articulate and illuminating analysis. It has helped me more than anything else I’ve read to understand the conundrum of this singer.

          • Gualtier M

            My take on Renée is that she tries too hard -- she doesn’t think she has anything to say of her own and just lards her singing with “effects”. When she connects with the music and just lets herself be she is stunning. Renée doesn’t realize she has a distinctive timbre and that simple honesty would do the trick -- the shortest way to a destination is a straight, unadorned line.

            Like I have said before, Renée is like one of those girls who is naturally pretty but doesn’t think she is so she paints another face over her naturally lovely one that looks unnatural and false.

          • damekenneth


            This seems to me precisely right as an analysis of Fleming… and it flies in the face of much what is written about her (in terms of her mannerisms being simply being that she has, over time, gotten lazy or carried away with herself.). I agree that, in a sense, the more of a vocal challenge she finds the music, the more direct she tends to be with it, thus more satisfying in a certain way. Also, that her mannerisms have been present -- and then again absent -- from the beginning of her distinguished career.

            The voice itself is, for me, incredibly beautiful, especially in the house. I also find myself exasperated though from time to time by her excessive “interpretation,” as so well explicated by Gualtier M, and by yourself in the analysis of her “dropped” voice in the line you mention in Du Bist Die Ruh. There were a couple of similar moments in the Ariadne excerpt, above, but overall i loved her commitment and the sheer beauty of tone -- and technique! -- in this video, as well as her clear understanding of the text. (Though, with regard to the last, I agree with many that a depth of insight seems to allude her.) There is always so much present in Fleming’s performances at the same time that some essential “magic” -- no wonder she “Wants Magic”! -- eludes her. She is, in a word, tantalizing. I agree with Gualtier about not quite believing in what she offers.

            Overall, I have to concur with Povero Jack who suggested someday we will be alert to how great she actually was all the while all were busy picking her apart. (And I heartily endorse his suggestion of a Steber Ariadne. That would have been terrific!)

        • armerjacquino

          Yes, dead right. You get both of them next to each other in Act III of TRAV: kind of thrilling in the stress of ‘Gran Dio morir si giovane’ then indulgent on ‘Se una pudica vergine’.

          • damekenneth

            And, for the record, I initially wrote “elude” in my comment above where it appears as “allude,” but it seems to have been spell corrected without my consent. I’m positive it wasn’t the martini!

  • Niel Rishoi

    And;, GREAT review, Patrick -- thank you.

  • oedipe

    Mr. Mack,

    I often disagree with you about the worth of singers and operas (we don’t seem to have the same tastes), but I always appreciate a historic background in a review. Historic information gives meaning and provides depth to the experience of opera. There is always some interesting historic aspect to reveal that helps people, even informed ones, see things in a new light. My guess is that a lack of understanding of the historic environment of operatic works represents a barrier that keeps many people away from opera.

    Do continue to include historic backgrounds in your reviews.

  • Avantialouie

    Mr. Mack: Providing adequate historical background as a context for the review of a particular performance is a basic responsibility of any critic. Please don’t let a bunch of snooty queens--who want the world to know that they think that they know far more about Strauss than you do--allow you to shirk it. You may, if you wish, acknowledge that the Parterre audience is a bit . . . well, “different” . . . than the normal review audience and select your historical background accordingly. But provide it you should: the thoroughness and accuracy of your coverage two of the reasons La Cieca continues to hand you plum assignments. As for those who consider Parterre primarily a place to show off your knowledge while tittering with your sisters, that’s fine: I expect that on Parterre. But please don’t do it by demeaning a serious critic who has done a good job.

    • Please don’t let a bunch of snooty queens--who want the world to know that they think that they know far more about Strauss than you do--allow you to shirk it.

      In the interests of accuracy: I think it was only one (n.b. -- heterosexual) “snooty queen” who was criticizing Mack.

      • steveac10

        And one who is an equal opportunity criticizer. If you say you love singer A, he will give you a dozen vague unsupported paragraphs about why you’re wrong. If you say you hate the same singer -- the result would likely be the same. My theory is either he revels in being the curmudgeon and denigrating his fellow posters, or someone pissed in his corn flakes decades ago and he’s never recovered. Either way he’s a nattering nabob of negativity. Don’t give in. Keep posting and defending yourself. I’m a walking encyclopedia of Ariadne trivia -- but I still never know when someone might tell me something I didn’t already know.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      ‘Mr. Mack: Providing adequate historical background as a context for the review of a particular performance is a basic responsibility of any critic.’

      Is that definitely true? I would agree in the case of a premiere, a local premiere, or an Opera Rara style dredge up of something that hasn’t been regularly performed in decades. But when we’re talking standard repertoire, I prefer reviews that stick to the performance in question -- I can look the work up if I want to.

      That said, like Camille, I am perfectly able to skip over the bits I don’t want to read, I see no point in chastising a writer for approaching things in a different way from the way I’d like them to -- they don’t, after all, owe us these reviews, neither do they force us to read them.

  • la vociaccia

    ***SO*** after all this chatter about the Itty-Bitty Breath of ‘Befreien,’ I took to youtube and found Jeritza’s recording of Es gibt ein reich, and not only does she take a breath in the middle of the ascending scale, she finishes the word and adds in an additional “Befreien” on the final three ascending notes.