Ariadne auf Naxos



photos courtesy of Ken Howard

ARIADNE AUF NAXOS by Richard Strauss
Conductor: Stephen Lord
Cast: C. Brewer, D. Rampy, A. Steiger, T. Dahl, R. Orth
Production: D. McLane (scenery), C. Zuber (clothes), C. Akerlind (lighting)

“Mr. Muni saw it as his challenge, he wrote in a program note, “to create an organic connection between the prologue and the second half (the opera)”, so he set Ariadne itself backstage too (we watched as if from upstage) and kept the prologue characters present and prominent. In Mr. Muni’s production, the Prima Donna guyed Ariadne’s first, tragic aria, “Ein schönes war”—mopped and mowed, forgot her words, consulted a score concealed on her rock, was prompted from the wings by a frantic composer. The audience laughed. I was tempted to leave the theater in disgust. The three nymphs, Andrews Sisters, sang into a period microphone. The audience laughed. I stayed and gradually the production cast it own, Pirandellian spell. Other figures materialized: mysterious, idealized representations of the Circe who haunts Bacchus’ muddled mind and the Hermes whom Ariadne expects; a raddled crone who represents Zerbinetta’s future if she persists in her frivolous course; a vision of the romantic, Octavian-like Composer, a young Mozart, whom Strauss envisaged. By the close, “transcendence” held full sway. Opera was triumphant. The final duet soared, even though it was sung by a Prima Donna who, hauled from a dressing room to which she had stomped in scorn, had flung a frowzy wrapper and mobcap over her Ariadne costume and by a stout Tenor who had shed his wig. I ought to disapprove more than I do, but I was held by the intelligence and imagination with which Mr. Muni had risen to his self-imposed challenge: by the richness and ambiguities of the staging, by the skill and beauty with which it was executed.”
Andrew Porter, THE NEW YORKER (July, 1991)

“Muni updated Ariadne to the 1920’s, placing the action backstage in the private theater of a “rich man”.  Muni’s intention was to develop unity out of this chaos. The opera proper began almost as a parody, with Ariadne’s first solo treated as the stuff from outdated prima-donna gesturing. As the opera continued, Muni introduced mime figures of powerful but ambiguous aspect, touching on myth. With the transformation music, however, artifice fell away, and Bacchus (bald and overweight) and Ariadne propelled the music to the forefront. The mimes and others moved about them, but those two carried the moving final scene. At the end, the entire cast, overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment, turned and saluted the Composer…it represented dynamically exploratory, imaginative thinking of great complexity by Muni, the most promising American opera director to emerge since Peter Sellars.”
Patrick J. Smith, OPERA NEWS (September, 1991)

” …director Nicholas Muni staged both acts of the Opera Theater of St. Louis new Ariadne as backstage scenes, giving the audience a hilarious wings-eye view of the arrogant tenor spitting and gargling behind the curtain, while the prima donna peeked at the musical score hidden behind a stage prop, trying to remember the next line in her aria. It showed the stage manager, bored with the whole show and falling asleep in the corner, instead of calling out the cues to the singing actors. And the audience could see the backstage wall clock inexorably ticking away toward the baron’s one-hour deadline for the final curtain, so he could watch the 9 p.m. fireworks show. Muni’s fun-filled Ariadne was the most natural, unprepossessing, accessible staging of the opera I’ve ever seen. As a gently telling comment on the subject of audiences missing the artist’s message, Muni’s baron turned his back on Strauss drawn-out climax in Ariadne in order to watch the fireworks, just when the clock ran out and the motley assortment of vaudeville players and opera singers came to a sentimental understanding of what each other’s artistry was all about.”
Carl Cunningham, The Houston Chronicle (June, 1991)

“…the St. Louis company again ratified its credentials as one of the country’s most enterprising—and best—regional opera outfits. Further proof came in a brilliantly irreverent new production of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. The St. Louis Ariadne was a riotous affair, and I’d be surprised if some people weren’t scandalized by it. Stage director Nicholas Muni presented both halves from a backstage vantage point, at a down-in-the-mouth 1920’s theater. I loved it.”
Scott Cantrell, The Kansas City Star (June, 1991)

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