Glyndebourne, East Sussex

Claissical review: Ariadne auf Naxos - You know what will see off Jerry? A jolly old sing-song

2.00

 

First seen as part of a 1912 double bill, Ariadne auf Naxos was revised and reshaped as Europe plunged into the carnage of the First World War. Strauss was profoundly relieved when his son, Franz, was declared unfit for military service. But his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, had already served as a reservist when the now familiar version of their backstage comedy on high and low art premiered in Vienna in 1916, four days after the assassination of the prime minister in the dining room of a hotel a few minutes' walk from the opera house.

For all the champagne fizz of Zerbinetta's coloratura, the histrionics of the idealistic young Composer whose tragedy must accommodate the beery quartets of a commedia dell'arte troupe at the whim of his patron, and the title character's slide from morose self-abnegation to erotic abandon, Ariadne auf Naxos was not created in a bubble. The Great War is there in the background. Yet the conflict referenced in Katharina Thoma's Glyndebourne production is the Battle of Britain.

In the Prologue, while the London Philharmonic Orchestra weaves its skittish, peppery magic under Vladimir Jurowski, the Music Master (Thomas Allen) pulls back the curtains to reveal a country house commandeered as an army billet. Bunting has been put up for the evening's entertainment. The dysjunct between this Ensa-style Ariadne and the German text, with its references to "the richest man in Vienna", is immediately awkward. The firework display becomes an aerial dogfight and the interval curtain closes on a shell-shocked Composer (Kate Lindsey), clutching his score like a holy icon.

The opera proper is played out in a makeshift military hospital where the three Nymphs are sadistic nurses, and Zerbinetta (a dry but accurate Laura Claycomb) is strapped into a straitjacket for her sung paean to sexual liberation and brought to orgasm, apparently against her will. There are certainly operas in which coloratura confers hysteria, and it is true that "massage" was favoured as a treatment for hysterics but not, I suspect, during the Battle of Britain. Besides, Zerbinetta is not mad. She's the sanest woman on stage.

Which brings us to Ariadne. Hofmannsthal once remarked that Strauss's wife, Pauline, could be a model for this character. Unfortunately, Soile Isokoski channels a later operatic version of Pauline Strauss, the neurotic, petty heroine of Intermezzo. Though radiantly sung, her Ariadne is more domestic than divine, and her surrender to Sergey Skorokhodov's sturdy Bacchus (a Polish airman) thankfully takes place behind a hospital curtain. It's a poor start to a promising season, especially given the excellence of the orchestral performance and of Lindsey's Composer. A counter-intuitive production of Ariadne auf Naxos can still enchant. One that is so earnest and unsexy cannot.

John Fulljames's production of Rossini's La donna del lago (Royal Opera House, London ****) for the Royal Opera is also hobbled by its framing device. The concept is that of a dialogue between the composer and Walter Scott, author of the poem on which his opera is based. Hence the minor characters of Albina (Justina Gringyte) and Serano (Robin Leggate) double as Rossini and Scott, while the Lady of the Lake herself, Joyce DiDonato's luminous Elena, is unlocked from a curiosity cabinet for the amusement of Scott's circle.

Elena is a fey lassie, melting into the arms of the King of Scotland (Juan Diego Florez) only to melt again in the arms of her true love Malcom (Daniela Barcellona), shrink from the burly clutches of his rival Rodrigo (Michael Spyres) then melt and shrink again, while singing some of Rossini's most poignant, vivacious and difficult arias. Imagine doing needlepoint while lifting a double-decker. Now imagine doing that for more than three hours. DiDonato pulls it off without breaking sweat. Brilliantly supported as she is by Barcellona, Florez and Spyres, this is her show, her vehicle, albeit chauffeured uncharismatically by conductor Michele Mariotti.

Singing aside, this is a horribly high-profile failure. Mention Scott to a Scot and you'll hear a lot of grumbling about the fetishising of tartan. Here Fulljames critiques the author's approach to Scottish history while adding some inflamatory anomalies of his own. While the all-singing, all-raping Highlanders of Rodrigo's rebel army disembowel a ram at the close of Act I, smearing their chests with its blood, Rossini/Albina wheels a hostess trolley on stage, lifts the lid from a silver platter and merrily carves a haggis. That some in the audience assumed the dish was Tournedos Rossini illustrates how just confusing a smart-ish idea can be when translated into stage business.

'Ariadne auf Naxos' to 11 July, glynde bourne.com; 'La donna del lago' to 11 June, roh.org.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor