Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera House, London

No grouse with this Strauss

What is it that establishes Covent Garden's Ariadne auf Naxos as so truly great? Perhaps Sir Colin Davis's initial nursing of searing strings and penetrating bassoon - lovely harbinger of death; one lost little old lady in a "dead" upstairs anteroom and Beryl Reid-like seamstress in the seamy basement - a "lonely" detail in Christof Loy's super production which contrasts with the way Herbert Murauer's split-level set then sensationally parts to reveal actorial mayhem below stairs; the stunned silence when the Majordomo's appalling diktat - "Gleichzeitig!" ("Both shows at once!") - sinks in? Or the purple patch when Susan Graham's fretful Composer blossoms into a death-fixated vision of true art unveiling true (com)passion?

One of the Strauss/von Hofmannsthal canon's masterly splicings of death and rebirth, this is a life-enhancing Ariadne-Zerbinetta show. True there's fractional loss in revival. Initial freneticism, if subtler, is not as sharp. John Graham-Hall's sneery Dancing Master excels not only because of his garish-yellow-gum-chewing awfulness, but because he's the first to galvanise vocally, as Dale Duesing's Music Master manifestly doesn't. There are even early moments when you sense Davis needs to push it on; thrice, the skein lurches or hobbles. The Capriccio-like launch to the main Act seemed oddly loose.

But what playing, what singing; crucially, what chemistry. Graham catches not just the Composer's boyish desperation, but his undergraduate ideals wonderfully. That vision of isolation - Ariadne's fusing with his - took the auditorium by storm. The crux, where Zerbinetta's crew is silenced and Diana Damrau's eyes blend with the Composer's - the glance (ein Blick) that can metamorphose attitudes and change a lifetime - proved breath stopping.

Dryad and Naiad (respectively Christine Rice and Ha Young Lee, one of the Royal Opera House's Vilar Young Artists of 2002) launch the island scene enchantingly, while Rachels Nicholls's Echo - fabulously moved by Loy so as constantly to reframe/readjust the scene - is quite wonderful; those Mozartian trios are heavenly. Alasdair Elliott's animated Brighella gets the funnies rolling, like a cheeky Charlie Drake; Grant Doyle's Harlequin who is a bit of rough, nicely stole the show; Jeremy White's Truffaldino is the best-sounding of the lot. The Scaramuccio of Christopher Lemming, how-ever, seems too subfusc, and the ditties lacked the banjoing twangy topline buzz that so sizzled in the recent staging which was at Aldeburgh.

But it's Damrau's stupendous box of tricks - she is as thrilling as Marlis Petersen was when she played the Night- ingale in Braunfels's Die Vögel at Geneva this spring - that deservedly brought the house down. And then there was the divine Anne Schwanewilms as Ariadne, whose Euryanthe in Euryanthe and Grete in Der ferne Klang took Glyndebourne and Berlin in turns by storm. Tall, gainly, commanding, with a voice that can send shivers through you, Schwanewilms is one of the greatest singers on the operatic stage today. She's done the role before, and could risk letting rip even more: the focused sound is stunning even when she sings upside down. Cradled by exquisite violin solos and an undertow of low clarinets, wrapped in Richard Margison's ample Dionysiac arms and framed by Murauer's blue-shadow stellar backdrop in the final scene, Schwanewilms's forceful presence underlines the sheer psychological scale and wisdom of this desert island Rosenkavalier.

To 9 July (020-7304 4000; www.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
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones