The Berkshire Opera Festival carries on this year with their second production, a radically different work written only a few years later by Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos. Brian and Jonathon very kindly agreed to chat about this year’s offering with me, and I think you will learn a lot about Ariadne and how it looks to the people who put it on the stage for your enjoyment. Opera is in one way entertainment and in another a great deal more, and no other opera brings this home to us more amusingly, delectably, and movingly than Ariadne.
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.