Director Francesca Zambello’s Ariadne in Naxos at Glimmerglass was a saucy and well-thought out production of one of Richard Strauss’s most difficult operas. Just shoe-horning the English translation into Strauss’s very specifically shaped German lines was a remarkable accomplishment. The rustic home-spun setting of the Prologue worked remarkably well as an analogue to the simply staged apotheosis. At first I thought that it wouldn’t, but it did. The house at Glimmerglass is a kind of barn, so stage and rustic set had a unity. Rachele Gilmore was the most complete Zerbinetta I have heard in the theatre. A true and moving voice was what she had, not just a facile one. She got across the loneliness of the character sharply. She did not flounce; she was lively, never obnoxious. The part seemed truer than I have found it before.
The final scene with very good singers in Christine Goerke’s Ariadne and Corey Bix’ Bacchus still came across like a lengthy song contest. The singing was powerful and detailed. The difficulty was in the orchestra. Kathleen Kelly was a clear and generous conductor, but a great deal of the opera proper is chamber music. It was not badly played, but it was not sweetly played. The final scene is an apotheosis, a transformation, not just a love duet. If the playing had been more subtle, this gradus ad Parnassum would have worked better. It must seem to progress, to enlarge. Most of it is not loud.
I heard a beautiful voice from Jacqueline Echols, soprano, singing the part of Echo. In her few solo lines there was a distinct and fetching sound. I must hear her again.
Usually when I come to Glimmerglass I am wondering why its peer companies like St. Louis and Glyndebourne are able to manage a very fine orchestra, and how they do it. The singing at Glimmerglass deserves this. I say this not to detract, but to encourage. Ariadne auf Naxos is one of the most detailed and player-specific operas in the canon. There are nearly as many soloists in the orchestra pit as there are on the stage, and they have to really sing.
For a different view, click here for Seth Lachterman’s review in New York Arts.