At last: Ariadne gets her man

Christof Loy's Covent Garden debut brings new life to Strauss's opera, says Christopher Wood

Fresh from a happy introduction to opera English-style at Glyndebourne this summer, where his production of Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide won many admirers, German director Christof Loy is about to sample the rather headier and sometimes troubled atmosphere of London's Royal Opera House. Much will be riding on Loy's new production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, so it is perhaps just as well that he is – so far – enjoying himself. "I feel very well protected here," he enthuses. "In a big opera house like this, there is a machinery of so many people and they can sometimes forget what it's all about. But here we feel as if we are on artistic islands. We only have to think about work."

Ariadne kicks off the musical directorship of Antonio Pappano at the Royal Opera in a season which also includes new productions of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito and Verdi's I masnadieri, and the world premiere of Nicholas Maw's Sophie's Choice. Since Ariadne touches on the tribulations of putting on an opera, it is perhaps an appropriate curtain-raiser for an house which has seen its fair share of problems. Written in 1912 and revised in 1916, Ariadne auf Naxos sits in Strauss's output between the gaudy luxuriance of Der Rosenkavalier and the mind-bendingly abstruse Die Frau ohne Schatten, and strikes a note of light relief that may be welcome at Covent Garden.

In brief, Ariadne sits forlornly outside her cave on Naxos, deserted by Theseus, longing for death but about to be swept off her feet by the god Bacchus. So far, as per the legend. Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal's original stroke was to cast their opera as a play set in the home of the richest man in Vienna, where as an evening entertainment an opera called Ariadne auf Naxos is to be performed. Also on the bill is a performance by a troupe of commedia dell'arte actors, and in a moment of waggish caprice the rich patron decides the two should be performed simultaneously. A prologue deals with the consternation surrounding the evening's events, with all the ego flexing one finds at any theatrical representation. Eventually the opera depicting Ariadne's plight is performed, with numerous interjections from the comedy troupe.

It sounds tortuous, but is wonderfully witty and lucid in performance and gives Strauss a chance to comment drily on artistic patronage, the crosses borne by artists, the imperious philistinism of rich men's lackeys; it even portrays a beleaguered composer whose high-flown ideals are shatteringly brought down to earth. But according to Christof Loy, the heart of the piece is not its satirical targets.

"The subject wasn't chosen to make a statement about opera," he claims. "It deals with the complicated idea of what transformation in life means. Every second in our lives transformations take place whether we want it or not. Ariadne is a woman who tries to remain faithful after Theseus has left her. She tries to keep alive her love, which for her means until death. But although Ariadne thinks she is moving away from life, she actually goes to a new love. Life is sometimes based on the necessity to keep our dignity by being faithful to the past and to tradition, and at the same time not to close our eyes in front of an unknown which seems risky. That is the essential theme."

How will Ariadne appear, with its eclectic mix of stage play and opera, and prima donnas side by side with clowns? "In style and aesthetics, the prologue and the opera are completely different," says Loy. "The prologue is much more down to earth, more realistic, and the opera is more poetic."

But more specific details will require the purchase of a ticket. "It's not a secret, but my words would be much too poor," Loy says. "I like to talk about ideas and conceptions but I think a director should be like a painter before the exhibition: he should never say, 'You'll see this and that and that.' The audience should supply their own ideas. Otherwise they may be disappointed."

'Ariadne auf Naxos', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000) Friday to 26 Sept; Radio 3, live, 21 Sept, 1pm

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
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.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015