Opera Profile: Strauss’ ‘Ariadne Auf Naxos’

By David Salazar

“Ariadne auf Naxos” is among the more popular Strauss works in the canon, its status the result of its glorious and lush melodies that accompany its passionate love duet.

But the opera as we know it today was not the way it was originally conceived. The version that premiered on Oct. 25, 1912, was actually little more than a 30-minute version to accompany a lengthy play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. But it proved an unsatisfactory arrangement and in 1916, the composer, at the suggestion of his beloved playwright, composed a prologue for the work and the first performance got its due on Oct. 4, 1916. It was a big success and has since been performed in that version, with a  few exceptions (a recent Salzburg production with Jonas Kaufmann and Emily Magee utilizes the original version).

Brief Plot Summary 

The opera consists of two parts – a Prologue and the Opera proper. In the prologue, set in Vienna, two competing music troupes (a burlesque and an opera seria company) compete over which gets to perform first. Unfortunately, they learn that the two performances must take place at the same time. The composer is ultimately convinced to incorporate the other group into his opera, much to his dismay.

The second part is the opera itself and relates Ariadne as she struggles with being abandoned on the island of Naxos by her former lover Theseus. Zerbinetta and a few members of her troupe appear and tell Ariadne to consider finding another man, which will ease her pains. The God Bacchus arrives and after some exchanges with Ariadne promises to set her in the heavens as a constellation. Zerbinetta remarks on how new love cures all and the two new lovers sing a duet that ends the opera.

Famous Musical Passages

While the entirety of the second part stands out as the musical gem of the opera as a whole, Zerbinetta’s aria is arguably the most famous section of the entire work, renowned for its demands on the coloratura soprano that must interpret it. The Composer also gets a famed aria in the first part of the piece.

Watch and Listen

While the video below may not be among the most famous interpretations of the opera, it is a solid performance overall with a young Adrianne Pieczonka as Ariadne, Robert Dean Smith as Bacchus, and Edita Gruberova as Zerbinetta.


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