With the history of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS as rich and complicated as the melodrama within itself, the reinvention presented by the Austin Opera this season is reminiscent of this Opera’s rich history and beginnings. Premiering initially in 1912, Richard Strauss conceived a performance mixing the comedic style of Moliere’ with the musically focused German-style melodrama opera. Appearing originally in two contrasting acts, the first begins as a play, and the second transitions into a full-fledged opera with comedic highlights. Historically, audiences were flustered in Munich and London by the contrasting art forms rolled into one night of entertainment – specifically, opera aficionados were loathe to sit through an entire act of a performance, before hearing the opera they were expecting in act two. After a variety of attempts with different versions and audience locations, Strauss’ Libretto partner Hofmannsthal proposed a new first act be written to provide context on marrying the dramatization of operatic performance style with less
prestigious but entertaining commedia dell’arte. Thus the second version of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS was presented in 1916 in Berlin and despite unsuccessful returns of a few productions, this opera/commedia concoction went on to be performed all over European Opera houses until it’s first presentation in the United States in 1925. This rich history and reworking lend well to the present production at The Long Center presented by Austin Opera.
Set in a barn somewhere in Texas, Austin Opera’s production team of designers brings life with a very Texan twist to this interpretation of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS. Act one introduces the gathering of a comic burlesque troupe and very serious opera performers awaiting the curtain for their performances. With a fireworks show determining the time with which these opposites may perform, a compromise is created by having both art forms perform simultaneously. Taking the commedia dell’arte inspired by Moliere’ a step further, Zerbinetta (performed by Jeni Houser) and Harlequin (played by Andrew Lovato), along with their fellow eager troupe are creatively presented as a punk rock princess with her band of CBGB followers, whom happen to possess operatic tendencies. The prima donna/Ariadne (played by Alexandra LoBianco) fit the bill of the over-the-top opera star thirsting for her time in the spotlight, pining for death in act two. With an equal performance being provided by the composer (played by Aleks Romano) of the opera-within-an-opera, the passion for the art was present and equally matched by the comedic talents of the “group of punks”.
Thematically ARIADNE AUF NAXOS delves into the roles opposites play on stage with the exploration of the characters’ pairings, as well the orchestral support of the action above. For every Yin, there is a Yang, and for every aria, there is a gag. The vocal performance of Ariadne (LoBianco) was instrumental in pleasing opera lovers in the audience who are there to see this artform and marvel at an individual’s vocal instrument. Her soprano performances were well supported and a joy to hear as she wished for death during the opera of Act Two. Finding her pairing with Bacchus (performed by Jonathan Burton), their duets were wonderfully performed whilst navigating Strauss’ fantastically germanic inspired musical accompaniment. Zerbinetta (Houser) led a burlesque-style performance for the comedic portion of the opera within an opera, tempting the eager onlookers, the juxtaposition of this performance with her love of the composer (Romano), reinstill the idea these advances are indeed pure spectacle for the audiences’ enjoyment. Although the feathery tease was fun to watch, Houser’s voice was lacking the power of her fellow performers, even at times bordering on hard hear in the mezzanine.
The stage direction presented by Jennifer Williams was fully realized through the consistent action and focus directed on the stage. Large barn doors and walls sprinkled the stage with various dynamic changes, revealing a variety of scenes. The most beautifully staged moment slowly crept in upon the climax of Act Two reinforcing the overlying theme of the show of t
ransformation. As the sun sets and the stage clears, the audience is left with the transformation of the characters individually and together, pairing with a changed heart from where the show started, and providing a celestial trajectory for the characters we have been rooting for.
Austin Opera continues to present creative interpretations of opera, with nods to Austin providing inside jokes and cowboy twang, the newest performance of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS is accessible to non-opera lovers, and technically pleasing to opera fanatics. Presenting such an accessible performance, this opera is a great introduction to Austinites looking to get their feet wet and experience an entertaining Opera with over-the-top comedy. For the local opera aficionados, this performance provides a breath of fresh air giving them a combination of artforms combining classic opera with commedia dell’arte. With surtitles provided for even further accessibility, this performance invites the audience to sit back and enjoy the beauty and entertainment on stage.
ARIADNE AUF NAXOS
BY: Richard Strauss
THE LONG CENTER – 701 WEST RIVERSIDE DR. AUSTIN, TX 78704
JANUARY 27TH, 2018 – 7:30PM
FEBRUARY 1ST, 2018 – 7:30PM
FEBRUARY 4TH, 2018 – 2:30PM
TICKET INFORMATION AVAILABLE: www.austinopera.org
Photo Credit: Erich Schlegel