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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Opera Review: Ariadne auf Naxos at the Met

A new set of bright stars shone in the Met's revival of Ariadne auf Naxos, the story of a princess abandoned on a desert island which is suddenly invaded by a troupe right out of Cirque de Soleil. Fine German singing was the order of the day, and once more this reliable Elijah Moshinsky staging (one of the prettiest in the Met's arsenal) did not disappoint. Conductor Kirill Petrenko led a balanced, intelligent performance that perfected the chamber-music dynamic of Strauss's intimate score.


Anne-Carolyn Bird, Tamara Mumford and Erin Morley as the Three Nymphs in Ariadne auf Naxos
Photo by Andrea Mohin © 2010 the Metropolitan Opera.
The opera's Prologue takes place backstage before Ariadne's premiere, and deals with the problems faced by a troupe of opera players and a young Composer (played superbly by Sarah Connolly) faced with their patron's last-minute decision to "decorate" the desert island of Naxos with Zerbinetta's comedy troupe, in order to liven up the proceedings and ensure that a planned fireworks display goes off on time. Connolly dominated the Prologue from her first notes, capturing the wistful, intellectual presence of the Composer who is under pressure from both the Soprano and the Tenor (played by Nina Stemme and Lance Ryan) to slash the other's part in the score.


Last night, the fireworks were provided by Kathleen Kim as Zerbinetta. This is one of the most difficult soprano parts in the repertory, and she was ideally suited as Strauss' quicksilver coquette. She rose admirably to the dizzying aria "Großmächtige Prinzessin," scaling its merciless, silvery heights and making the giant stage hers. Ms. Kim's Zerbinetta was aided and abetted by a skilled comic cavalcade who combined balletic skill with juggling, fire twirling and even singing as the players struggled to fit their shenanigans into the dramatic frame-work of the main opera.

Swedish soprano Nina Stemme was not to be outdone. After all, Ariadne is the title role, and she sang the part with regal bearing and a full, rounded voice that soared to the heights and plunged easily, into the lower mezzo-like passages at the start of "Er gibt ein Reich." Nina Stemme was well complemented by tenor Lance Ryan, who made his company debut in the role of Bacchus after being sidelined last Thursday night. Bacchus is an ungrateful, difficult part with a series of gut-busting high notes. Ryan coped well with the high tessitura though he was not quite the god-like presence that the role requires.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.