Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos (1916)
Ariadne/Prima donna – Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano)
Bacchus – AJ Glueckert (tenor)
Composer – Sophie Koch (mezzo soprano)
Zerbinetta – Jessica Pratt (soprano)
Music Master – Markus Werba (baritone)
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Daniele Gatti, Matthias Hartmann (stage direction)
Picture format: 1080i/16:9; Sound format: PCM Stereo/DTS-HD MA 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Sung in German; Subtitles: Italian, German, English, Korean, Japanese, French
rec. live, 29 June 2022, Teatro della Pergola, Florence, Italy
Dynamic 37970 DVD [133]

Dynamic is an Italian record label, so German opera is something of a rarity for them. It’s a good thing they released this Florentine performance of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, however, because there’s a lot in it to enjoy, and the international cast make the most of what they’re given.

Matthias Hartmann’s production is in modern dress, but aside from that he plays the action pretty straight. There is no massive concept that drives the action too far from Hofmannsthal’s original story, and there is no deadening literalism either. So the production feels untethered to be itself but also very easy to follow. As the curtain goes up, in fact, we see the richest man in Vienna (who doesn’t look very well) being wheeled around in a wheelchair by the Major Domo, and the backstage clutter in the Prologue is put to good use in the Opera, especially some giant light-up letters that spell out NAXOS. The comedians are led by a waspish yet grungy dancemaster, and Zerbinetta gets a terrific silver wig in the Prologue that sets off her brittle brilliance. During the orchestral introduction to the Opera we see more backstage action as the lighting and props people get things ready, and the three nymphs sing their initial trio reading their parts from a sheet of paper, as if we were still in rehearsal. That’s about as daft as it gets, though, and if you’re not bothered by a Bacchus with a huge ponytail plait who appears in a golden dressing gown, I doubt there’ll be much else you’re offended by.

The tonal worlds of the Prologue and the Opera are so different that I’m seldom a fan of productions that combine them. It’s rarely a good idea to bring back the Composer in the Opera, for example, and Hartmann doesn’t do that but lets the second half unfold straight. That means you need to enjoy Sophie Koch’s Composer while you can, and she’s very good, having made the role pretty much her own in recent decades. She sounds just a little pinched on top, however, suggesting that maybe her best days with this part are behind her. Of course, she might just have been having a weaker night, but she doesn’t sound as convincing as she did on Colin Davis’ Dresden performance (review).

I was worried that the same might be true of Krassimira Stoyanova, but her Ariadne sounds terrific. There is richness and poignancy to her aria and, in the duet with Bacchus, there is a creamy opulence to her tone in the love music. She was a first-rate Marschallin in Salzburg (review), and she has all the same qualities to make her a great Strauss heroine here, too. AJ Glueckert isn’t a singer I’d come across before, but his Bacchus is terrific. Pingy and youthful-sounding, he makes this tricky part sound easy, and if his voice is on the lighter side of heroic then he still sings the part with thrilling accuracy. Jessica Pratt’s Zerbinetta is every bit as good at the tricky range of her part, if just a little shrill on top. However, she acts the part with gay abandon, and milks the applause after her aria with comic self-awareness. The smaller parts are all cast from strength, and it’s real luxury casting to have a baritone of the stature of Markus Werba as the Music Teacher.

Daniele Gatti is a very assured Straussian and conducts in a way that brings out the music’s opulence without ever letting it cloy. The chamber forces of the Maggio Musicale orchestra play very well for him, and they’re all captured in excellent surround sound.

If you want an all-round Ariadne then you will not do better than the two productions from the Metropolitan Opera. There’s Bodo Igesz’s production starring Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle (review) or, even finer, Elijah Moshinsky’s production with Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay (review). James Levine conducts both. This Florentine performance doesn’t beat either of those, but it has its own very fine qualities.

Simon Thompson

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