Marty Sohl / Metropolitan OperaI checked back in on the Met’s revival of Ariadne auf Naxos yesterday, after a messy first night one week ago that left much to the imagination. Tenor Lance Ryan had been sick that night, and the cover who took his place was not much healthier, throwing the whole cast into a panic mode that made higher artistic values almost out of the question. Last night’s show was leaps and bounds forward, both musically and theatrically – a win for Strauss aficionados and an excellent save for the company.

Cleaner blocking gave a sense of purpose to the chaos in the busy Prologue. The Major Domo had his lines down pat.  Sarah Connolly cut an imposing and confident figure as the Composer, as she did on opening night, and sang with passionate lyricism if not vocal power. Jochen Schmeckenbecher (just try playing the Name Game with him) sang with more vocal might as the Music Master, and Markus Werba made a particularly fine musical impression as Harlekin, often upstaging Kathleen Kim’s Zerbinetta. She is not dreadfully miscast in the role, but that is about all I can muster for a compliment.

Kirill Pentrenko kept the Met Orchestra playing neat and lively, yet stirred then into a sumptuous swirl of sound in the opera’s soaring tuttis. He seems to have cut some deals with his cast, resulting in tempos that appeared more consensual than before.

But the real star of this show is soprano Nina Stemme, whose debut here as Senta a few years ago drew only tentative praise. Though her voice has the size and brawny timbre for larger roles, Ariadne comes easier for her, giving her the luxury of full expressivity. Last night she packed pathos and ardent yearning into her portrayal of the morbid, heartbroken princess. Ryan was also impressive as her hero, wielding a lean, powerful tenor that complimented her darker sound. Both are capable of effortlessly curvaceous phrasing, and moments in their final duet interlocked in telepathic cohesion.

Thought it is a selfish pleasure to have more space in the lobby at intermission, these performances have been very poorly attended. With only five Ariadne nights on the docket this season, it is disappointing — even ominous – to see so many empty seats.  Perhaps it’s the economy; perhaps the audience for this repertoire has dwindled. But for the lucky few who were there, these are still the good old days.