The night after the new Don Carlos premieres, the Met will perform Ariadne auf Naxos for the first time in 11 years, so Trove Thursday previews the Strauss work with a 1994 “pirate” featuring Gabriela Benacková and Natalie Dessay, along with another Viennese diva pairing: Benacková and Sena Jurinac in the second act of Janacek’s Jenufa.

Benacková who turns 75 next month, didn’t sing much Strauss. Like many, she performed the Vier Letzte Lieder, but besides Ariadne, I believe her only other Strauss role was Adelaide in the (perhaps too late) Renée FlemingThomas Hampson Dresden Arabella. 

Today’s 1994 Ariadne was just the second time Benacková performed the opera at the Wiener Staatsoper; the first occurred three years earlier. After this second one-off, she’d return for a run of four in 1996 and that was it. In all her other five Ariadnes there, her Zerbinetta and Komponist coincidentally were Gruberová and Ann Murray. 

1993-94 was Dessay’s first season in Vienna; following her house debut as Blondchen in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, she also sang two other Strauss roles, the Italienische Sängerin in Capriccio and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. The Benacková performance was her very first local Zerbinetta, her other Ariadnes that season were Luana DeVol and Alessandra Marc. Dessay’s Met debut occurred later in 1994 as Fiakermilli in Arabella with her Zerbinetta arriving in 1997—25 years ago now!

Anticipation is particularly high for the March 1 Ariadne revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s ravishing production as Lise Davidsen’s previous Met roles—Lisa in Pikovaya Dama and Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—have not shown the buzzed-about Norwegian soprano at her best. Ariadne, on the other hand, has been her calling card, just as Zerbinetta has been for Brenda Rae whose debut as Poppea in Agrippina also wasn’t an ideal match.

Benacková’s Vienna Staatsoper debut in 1978 was as Jenufa in the premiere of a restudied Otto Schenk production which had opened 14 years earlier with Jurinac in the title role opposite Martha Mödl. A broadcast of their electric collaboration remains available in an earlier Trove Thursday posting.

Jurinac would sing Jenufa at nearly every performance of Janacek’s opera at the Staatsoper for the next decade.  Her pivot to Kostelnicka came the same night as Benacková’s debut. 

To date, every Jenufa performance by the Austrian company has been in German, including five in 1948 when Ljuba Welitsch performed Janacek’s heroine. Jurinac would relearn her role in Czech for her San Francisco Opera return as Kostelnicka in 1980 opposite Elisabeth Söderström. The Croatian soprano continued to sing Kostelnicka in Vienna until early November 1982, just two weeks before her Staatsoper farewell as the Marschallin (of course).

During the 1978-79 season Benacková also made her US debut at Carnegie Hall with Opera Orchestra of New York in the title role of Kat’á Kabanová. That performance can be heard or downloaded here.

The “pirate” recording of Jenufa unfortunately is incomplete, so only the searing second act is being offered today. Thanks to a fellow GB-loving friend who provided me with the Ariadne recording. More Benacková, however, is on tap to mark her birthday next month. 

R. Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Wiener Staatsoper
21 February 1994
In-house recording

Ariadne/Primadonna: Gabriela Benacková
Zerbinetta: Natalie Dessay
Der Komponist: Margareta Hintermeier
Najade: Rosa Vento
Dryade: Ruxandra Donose
Echo: Ulrike Sonntag
Bacchus/Tenor: Michael Pabst
Der Musiklehrer: Gottfried Hornik
Der Haushofmeister: Waldemar Kmentt
Harlekin: Sebastian Holecek
Scaramuccio: Franz Kasemann
Truffaldin: Rudolf Mazzola
Brighella: Helmut Wildhaber
Ein Offizier: Ruben Broitman
Ein Tanzmeister: Helmut Wildhaber
Ein Perückenmacher: Jörg Schneider
Ein Lakai: Wolfgang Bankl
Conductor: Leopold Hager

Janacek: Jenufa—Act II—in German

Wiener Staatsoper 
17 December 1979
In-house recording

Jenufa: Gabriela Benacková
Kostelnicka: Sena Jurinac
Laca: Connell Byrne

Conductor: Gerd Albrecht

Supplemental Trove Thursday Ariadne postings include the complete opera with Régine Crespin, Reri Grist, Irmgard Seefried and Jean Cox, along with rare prologue-only performances featuring the Komponist by Julia Varady and Teresa Stratas.

Both Benacková performances can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a cloud with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 files will appear in your download directory.

In addition, nearly 500 other podcast tracks are always available from Apple Podcasts for free, or via any RSS reader. The archive which lists all Trove Thursday offerings in alphabetical order by composer will be further up-to-dated soon.