Ah, the tone of a production. Was Schumann right when he quoted Schlegel at the top of his score to the Fantasie this way: “Through all the world’s dream there sounds one tone for him who can hear it?” I’m thinking now of many different pieces — Our Town of Thornton Wilder, first. This concentrated text has the bareness, the emptiness of Greek tragedy on the page. The actions, however, are humble. Is there a single tone there?
Strauss was never more the musical conjurer than he was in Ariadne auf Naxos. With an ensemble of thirty-seven instruments, including harmonium, celesta, piano, harps and percussion, a shimmering and transparent opera emerges and asserts its lean clarity against a perceived Wagnerian monumentalism. Even when Strauss wants his cake after eating it, and strives for a Tristan-like blossom in the second half (the one and only “Act” of this work, the first half being a Prologue), one cannot fault the ensemble for sounding a bit threadbare in its overreaching to the Bayreuth master. After all, this textural contrast of light and heavy is all in line with the clever libretto of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, which is an ironic comment on Love the Ideal and what we know as reality in our all-too-human relationships.
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.