It takes a confident and mature company like Glimmerglass to poke fun both at itself and the very form of opera. Ariadne in Naxos was, in many ways, both a celebration and a self-referential spoof of the entire “Glimmerglass family” that had gathered. The production was cast from past and present members of the Young Artists program and directed by the Festival’s Artistic Director, Francesca Zambello. Ariadne of Naxos proved a fresh and irreverent take on a work of two masters, Richard Strauss and his librettist von Hoffmanthal.
Walking into the opera house the audience is transported, not to the desert isle of Ariadne’s exile after her all too brief amorous liaison with the Greek mythic hero Theseus, but to familiar pastures in these New York parts.
On stage before the show, one of the singer-actors feeds a black-speckled chicken he holds under his arm. Up the aisle prances a cute little goat on a leash. (Sadly, they were soon whisked away never to be seen again, suggesting that things were dandled rather than integrated in this opera.)
Characters arrive up through the audience, representing the artists who plan to take part in the evening’s festivities. As Manager of the Estate, festival favorite Wynn Harmon greets them with a basket packed with party favors, reminding everyone giggling knowingly of the Artistic Director, ‘Madame Z’ herself, first on the lawn outside the opera house and then inside in the aisles. Oh, how arts administrators must ply their caring, be it in take-away gifts, or thoughtful blankets to withstand the cool night air –anything to win new patrons for opera. We are family.
The original opera was its creators’ experiment in clashing styles and plots, forging the classical myth of Ariadne together with the sparky street swank of a commedia del’arte troupe. Zambello has pulled out all the stops to direct this production, updating the entire affair and making it a self-referential spoof. She has an able team to cavort with her.
Cheeky Kelly Rourke is a gifted translator-adaptor of grand opera and the consummate surtitle queen, who knows how to grab a contemporary audience. She has pitched the operatic singers in the story as a “static park and bark” duo and has them accused of “all that yowling while nothing happens.” The modern troupe she casts as a girl rocker with a quartet of male dancers, “something you’d expect to encounter at a joint on the Jersey shore.”
The fabulous costume designer Eric Teague dresses them with spiked mohawks and other ”do’s”, metal studs and piercings, wild leggings, and cut-off jean-and-leather jackets. John Kapusta, Carlton Ford, Gerard Michael D’Emilio, Andrew Penning, and Brian Ross Yeakley, backing up Rachele Gilmore as the effervescent “it girl” Zerbinetta, are simply fabulous. Choreographer Eric Sean Fogel gives the crew some great eclectic moves and grooves from the pop world.
Their arrival at a prestigious estate where an opera diva is preparing to debut a new work at an evening’s soirée threatens to become a fraught cultural war. The composer of the opera, in this iteration, a female composer, played by Catherine Martin, established a most interesting dramatic character if sometimes vocally overtaxed in the libretto’s scansion. She is most delicious, when, struggling to uphold classical, high and purposeful opera, Martin pines that the world currently is “too corrupt to nurture art.”
The plot hinges on the matter of a confusion of agreements. It seems that there is no time between dinner and the promised fireworks for both entertainments to get performed, so the artists must be co-joined and ‘gallop apace!’ The opera diva threatens to walk. The street performers are not sure they can or want to save the dreaded boredom of opera. But they are reminded that then no one would get paid.
ARIADNE IN NEXOS
Closes August 23, 2014
The Glimmerglass Festival
7300 State Highway 80
Cooperstown, NY 13326
2 hours, 39 minutes with 1 intermission
Details and Tickets
Act I is all fun but a bit silly. It can’t hide that the music seems a difficult mouthful of recitative. However, if anyone thinks by this time that opera and this well-mocked diva cannot be saved, Act II delivers a marvelous coup de grás. When the Prima Donna Christine Goerke finally opens her mouth to sing her character Ariadne’s first aria, she elevates the entire evening with her gorgeous, expressive sound. Her partner, tenor Corey Bix as the god Bacchus, matched her stage presence and sings most impressively.
Rounding out the show are three diaphanously-gowned nymphs, Jeni Houser, Beth Lytwynec and Jacqueline Echols, who sing as beautifully as they look. At the end, Greek girl gets god, and modern girl gets girl.
Zambello has made the most of this work, and Kathleen Kelly conducted the opera with a spirited touch. What a fun show and splendid breakout opportunity for young professional singers.
Ariadne in Naxos . Composed by Richard Strauss . Original Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal; English adaptation and surtitles by Kelley Rourke . Conducted by Kathleen Kelly . Directed by Francesca Zambello . Produced by Glimmerglass Festival . Reviewed by Susan Galbraith.