Santa Fe Opera 2018 Review: Ariadne Auf Naxos

Solid Cast & Decent Production Make This Strauss Masterpiece Highly Recommendable

By Arya Roshanian

The last time Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” was seen at Santa Fe Opera in 1999, the world was on the brink of a new millennium. Nineteen years later, this masterpiece finally saw a brilliant return to the Crosby Theater, in a new production by director Tim Albery and set and costume designer Tobias Hoheisel.

Though “Ariadne auf Naxos” is now considered one of Strauss’ most prolific works, it was once considered an afterthought. In the program notes, it is stated that it was originally intended as an “interim work” by both Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal for “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” However, it soon took over the attention of both men, and thank goodness it did. The final product was iconic, and still is to this day.

Park and Bark

This new production is equally as paradigmatic, as Hoheisel scenic and costume design are a hit. Set in the home of the the Major-Domo, the distressed, shabby-chic green walls and scruffy lighting is an ideal counterpoint for the stylish costumes, complete with silk turbans and feathered robes. However, Albery could have done more in the second half. Two half-pipe-like structures served as the primary set, with the title character propped on an egg-shape dome for nearly the entire act, which is assumed to be the island she inhabits. The minimalism of the set pieces works, but the staging is a little park-and-bark. Though to be fair, there isn’t much one can do in a space that is about two square-feet.

Furthermore, there is a bit of musical chairs when it comes down to the translation. The prologue was performed in English (in a translation by Albery himself), with the “opera” sung in German — except for the troupe of performers, who sang their lines in English, with (again) an exception of Zerbinetta’s aria, which was also sung in German. It wasn’t all that confusing though, and makes sense when reflecting upon it. Purists may have had their feathers ruffled at the roulette of languages, but it was a clever update to the text and made it more accessible for those experiencing opera for the first time.

Just Fine

The minute problems of the staging didn’t take away from the musicality of the piece, for it was a privilege to experience Maestro James Gaffigan conduct the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. The American conductor, who is no stranger to this Strauss masterpiece, extracted a bit too much sound from the orchestra at times. It’s easy to get carried away, seeing how this is some of Strauss’ best music. But the chemistry between the Maestro and the singers was memorable, and there was no shortage of passion in their collaboration.

Overall, the performance was very well-sung, though there wasn’t too much dramatically for the singers. Amanda Echalaz’s Ariadne is fine. The voice is massive and boomed easily throughout the space, particularly in her scenes with Bacchus at the end of the second act. But the problem with her interpretation is that she is much too focused on landing the notes. In the moments of Ariadne’s deepest pain and unwanted solitude, Echalaz moves her body in a way that looked like she is still warming up.  Though the timbre is beautiful, one wishes that there was more drama attached to her interpretation.

The same can be said for Amanda Majeski’s as Der Komponist. Again, she posses beautiful, powerful voice with a unique tone. During the running sprint that is the role, Majeski’s doesn’t need to try very hard to produce a large sound — her natural instrument is huge. However, the fervor and immature air of the role is almost non-existent.  Like Echalaz, she seemed more concerned about landing the notes and less so about creating a distinct, original character. But surely one shouldn’t fault her too much on that. At the end of the day, she sounded impeccable and that takes priority.

Star of the Show

The most impressive of the cast is soprano Liv Repath as the feisty Zerbinetta. At only 26 years old, Redpath is a powerhouse. An Apprentice Artist only last year, she took over the role from Erin Morley, who withdrew from the production only months ago due to pregnancy. Redpath’s soprano penetrates the air and pierces the ear, and is reminiscent of a young Beverly Sills. She exudes all of the carefree, nymph-like attitude of the character, and is particularly coquettish in her grand aria, which received the biggest ovation of the night. It was a privilege to see Redpath at such an early stage in her career, for she will surely be a recognizable name in a few years.

Solid Complements

Tenor Bruce Sledge showed dramatic versatility as The Tenor/Bacchus — he was the perfect divo in the Prologue, whose hefty voice complemented Echalaz’s voice well in the final scene.

As the Music Master, Rod Gilfry’s velvety baritone sound was matched with perfect English diction. It made one forget that it is supposed to be in German.

As the four players, Jarrett Ott, Anthony Robin Schneider, Matthew DiBattista and Terrence Chin-Loy delivered perfect comedic timing. Ott’s voice is the most memorable, with a silky, resonant sound that was like balm to the ears.

Equally as tantalizing were Meryl Dominguez, Samantha Gossard and Sarah Tucker as the three nymphs. Clad in elegant evening dresses with turbans, their harmonies filled the summer air with magic.

Despite some shortcomings, this “Ariadne” is still a solid production overall that makes a strong case for this masterwork.


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