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Circe, Circe!

New York
Metropolitan Opera
02/04/2010 -  & February 8,* 11, 15, 20
Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
Jochen Schmeckenbecher (The Music Master), Michael Devlin (The Major-Domo), James Courtney (A Lackey), Dennis Petersen (An Officer), Sarah Connolly (The Composer), Lance Ryan (Bacchus/The Tenor), David Crawford (A Wigmaker), Kathleen Kim (Zerbinetta), Nina Stemme (Ariadne/The Prima Donna), Tony Stevenson (The Dancing Master), Markus Werba (Harlequin), Sean Panikkar (Brighella), Mark Schowalter (Scaramuccio), Joshua Bloom (Truffaldino), Anne-Carolyn Bird (Najade), Tamara Mumford (Dryade), Erin Morley (Echo)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Kirill Petrenko (conductor)
Michael Yeargan (sets and costumes), Gil Wechsler (lighting), Elijah Moshinsky (production)

N. Stemme (© Marty Sohl/Met Opera)

A short run of five performances has returned Richard Strauss’s playful meditation on the cross purposes of art and transformative power of love to the stage of the Met. A relative latecomer to the Met’s repertoire, premiering at the house only in 1962, Ariadne has received only two productions since. The more recent, by Elijah Moshinsky, opened in 1993 with Jessye Norman in the title role and has been graced by heavyweight soprano Deborah Voigt in recent years. Earlier Met Ariadnes included Leonie Rysanek, Lisa della Casa, and Montserrat Caballé. This short if rich tradition presents a challenge for any diva, but in Nina Stemme the Met has found a fine torchbearer. Stemme has developed a prodigious European career in Wagner, singing notable Isoldes for the Glyndebourne and Bayreuth Festivals and planned Brünnhildes this season for San Francisco and Vienna. Ariadne is a natural role for such a voice, and Stemme brought cool dramatic tones to the solo singing and excellently phrased passion to her duet with Bacchus. Tenor Lance Ryan shares far-reaching Wagnerian aspirations and is scheduled to appear this summer as Siegfried in Bayreuth. But the voice is unequal to such challenges. Despite his fine legato and admirable interplay with Stemme’s Ariadne, the voice underwhelmed in volume and emotional power. The rising young soprano Kathleen Kim possesses a fine, ringing coloratura that has drawn much critical acclaim in her recent Met appearances in The Tales of Hoffmann and Orfeo ed Euridice. It was too bad that she deployed it so girlishly, for the role of Zerbinetta, a street performer who has certainly been around the block, demands more sophistication. Sarah Connolly gradually warmed up in the role of the Composer, singing a bit too high in the opening scenes but blossoming into an ardor so mellifluous that I felt more captivated by the character’s scene with Zerbinetta than I ever have. Markus Werba, Sean Panikkar, Mark Schowalter, and Joshua Bloom performed vigorously as Zerbinetta’s troupe. Kirill Petrenko did less than he could have with the score and the Met’s orchestra.

Moshinsky’s production, with sets by Michael Yeargan, offers a cutaway view of the back stage area of the grand Viennese house in which the prologue is set and a stylized isle of Naxos with projected constellations, billowy mists, and jagged strokes of light (representing Ariadne’s cave) for the act. The visuals hardly seem to have aged in the past seventeen years, though the effects in the act have begun to look a bit retro-early 90s.

Paul du Quenoy



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