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Subject: Ariadne auf Naxos - Glasgow, 18/3/98
From: "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>
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Date:Thu, 19 Mar 1998 00:29:03 -0000
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Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Ariadne auf Naxos (Richard Strauss)

Anne Evans - Ariadne/Prima Donna
Diana Montague - Composer
Lisa Saffer - Zerbinetta
Adrian Clarke - Music Master
John Horton Murray - Bacchus
Peter Bronder - Dancing Master
David Stephenson - Harlequin
David Owen - Scaramuccio
Andrew Slater - Truffaldino
Richard Coxon - Brighella
Helen Williams - Naiad
Claire Bradshaw - Dryad
Anna-Clare Monk - Echo
Giles Davies - Lackey
Nigel Douglas - Majordomo

Scottish Opera Orchestra
Richard Armstrong - conductor

Martin Duncan - director
Tim Hatley - sets and costumes
Chris Ellis - lighting

Okay, I'm sure by now you're fed up with me telling you how good the orchestra
 has
been this season, but the miracle continues and I have to say it makes me one
 very
happy subscription holder.  It's so much easier to listen to merely competent
 singing
when the orchestra, at least, is giving its all.

Not that there was much that was "merely competent" about tonight's performance.
This was the familiar 1916 version of Ariadne, consisting of Prologue and Opera
 --
some listers may have seen the Opera part of this production at the Edinburgh
Festival last year.  It's a lively production, endearingly and rather splendidly
 vulgar in
design -- there's a wonderfully tacky, mock-Baroque "Stairway to Heaven" right
 at the
end, which cracked just about everyone up!; the keyboard hidden in a wheel-on
turtle had to be seen to be believed (I had a hilarious flash on the Great
 A'Tuin), as
did the leopard-skin upholstered ormolu chairs.  I do think that Zerbinetta
 could have
been a bit more attractively dressed, the thick pink striped stockings did
 absolutely
nothing for Ms. Saffer's legs (and her wig did nothing for her general
 appearance), but
at least Bacchus didn't look (quite) as stupid as he always has in my past
experience, and the "operatic" ladies were elegant in pale satin draperies and
 frosted
make-up.  The period chosen for the Prologue looked to be around the late 20s,
which is also more or less usual in my experience (I don't ever recall seeing a
production actually set in 17th Century costume; Art Nouveau tends to be a much
more popular choice)

During the Opera, one was constantly reminded of its "actual" setting -- often
productions divide Prologue and Opera completely, so that you forget the
 context.
Here, however, one was always reminded of the events of the Prologue; the Wig-
Maker crawls on-stage to pin up the hem of one of the nymphs' dress, the
 Composer
is seen waving pages of manuscript at Ariadne to warn her of another cut...
sometimes it got a little busy and, quite frankly, the nymphs were made to look
 like a
trio of synchronised swimmers at several points (there is a fine line between
 tongue-
in-cheek and just plain farcical), but on the whole, it was pretty entertaining.
  The
cast certainly appeared to be having a *very* good time of it, which added
immeasurably to the zest of the performance.

The singing, on the whole, was excellent.  The synchro... sorry, the nymphs
 blended
well together, with a nice cameo for Echo who becomes the slightly bemused
"object" of Harlequin's serenade; the four suitors were also good, particularly
 Coxon,
who was singing very strongly, and a pleasingly suave Harlequin from David
Stephenson.  John Horton Murray made no particular impression during the
 Prologue
(but then, the Tenor rarely does), and had some tuning problems singing
 off-stage as
Bacchus (also a common problem), but he settled down once he got on-stage  and
could both see and hear properly.  I did think he was a bit drowned out at times
 (and
this is only "chamber" Strauss, after all), but he didn't try to belt out the
 part, and
when he really let go the voice had a fine, lustrous ring to it.  Peter Bronder
 was a
little nasal for my liking as the Dancing Master, but Adrian Clarke was a good
 Music
Master, Nigel Douglas (normally a tenor, but tonight in a speaking part) was a
suitably haughty (and put-upon) Majordomo, and I very much liked a new, young
bass, Giles Davies, as the mocking Lackey.

However, "Ariadne" rests or falls on the three principal ladies; Ariadne,
 Zerbinetta and
the Composer.  Least successful, to my mind, was Lisa Saffer's Zerbinetta.  I
 found
her presentation rather artificial -- hence my comments about her appearance.
 Had
she projected the sort of vivacious charm I expect of this character, I don't
 think I'd
have noticed how she looked quite so much.  Most of her singing in the Prologue
 was
pretty good, but "Grossmachtige Prinzessin" revealed that her coloratura was
 *not*
that precise, and she came seriously unstuck on the long, held high note (is it
 a D?  I
don't have a score) near the end.  She has to get back up there (or pretty
 close) a
few bars later, and this time Saffer very deliberately blew the note, pitching
 (off-key)
about a third lower -- a kind of Florence Foster Jenkins thing, if you get my
 drift -- as
if to imply that *both* errors were calculated.  Hmmm....  And she took a long
 time to
recover from that aria, she was very nearly inaudible for most of the
 "courtship"
sequence that follows.

Anne Evans is a seasoned Wagnerian; the title role presented no significant
difficulties to her and she was in fine form.  It's the first time I've actually
 seen her live;
she's an entertaining actress, managing to be funny in her interaction with the
 "buffo"
characters without ever becoming hammy.  Vocally, I felt there was something a
 little
detached about her interpretation, she never really let go on the big lyrical
 phrases
("Du wirst mich befreien", for example, in "Es gibt ein Reich"), which was a
 pity,
because the orchestra was certainly there to back her up.  However, that was
certainly *not* a complaint that could be made about Diana Montague, who was in
absolutely magnificent voice, and is ideally suited to the role of the Composer,
physically, temperamentally and vocally.  "Die heilige Musik!" indeed; as that
wonderful phrase soared out over the auditorium, I think all of us stopped
 breathing for
a moment.

This was Scottish Opera's Festival presentation (in its 1912 version), it was
 always
intended to be the "jewel in the crown" of the current season.  I've seen other
 years
when the gambit hasn't paid off, but this time it has, amply.  There were many
smiling faces leaving the theatre tonight, not least mine.

Kate Lang
[log in to unmask]
Glasgow, Scotland

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