2013-14 season: Falstaff, Ariadne auf Naxos, The Marriage of Figaro

ARIADNE AUF NAXOS

Music by Richard Strauss. Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
February 13, 15, 21, 2014, at 8 pm. Matinée February 23 at 2:30 pm

In German with English Surtitles
The performance is about 2 hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Above: Scenes from Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Ariadne auf Naxos, with Arminè Kassabian, Colleen Skull, Roger Honeywell, Suzanne Rigden, J. Patrick Raftery, Bruce Kelly, John Brancy, Riccardo Iannello, Neil Craighead, James McLennan, Joseph Schnurr, Virginia Hatfield, Aidan Ferguson, Eve-Lyn de la Haye, Andy Erasmus, Christopher Hinz, and Amelita Galli-Pixie.
Timothy Vernon conducts the Victoria Symphony. With Director Oriol Tomas, Set Designer Ian Rye, Costume designer Sheila White, Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell, and Choreographer Jacques Lemay.
Shine-ola Communications


 

Above: Scene change for POV's production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Enjoy a fast-paced glimpse of what goes on behind the red velvet curtain!


 

Above: Backstage Mashup for Ariadne auf Naxos. Artistic Director Timothy Vernon chats about the opera and we meet some of the cast and crew: Virginia Hatfield (Naiad), Riccardo Iannello (Scaramuccio), and Front of House Manager Robert Rawson.


 

License to Thrill: CTV Vancouver Island's Adam Sawatsky investigates what Honeywell and Dr. Skull have to do with James Bond, as he interviews Bacchus (Roger Honeywell) and Ariadne (Colleen Skull).

The clip begins about 30 seconds in, after a commercial.


 

CBC Radio One Review: Listen to Monica Prendergast's review of Ariadne auf Naxos.


 

Seen and Heard International Review by Bernard Jacobson: an authentic and ravishing realization of Strauss's most delicate operatic score ... And the singing ranged from merely excellent to positively gorgeous.

Times Colonist Review by Kevin Bazzana: an impeccable, stylish, deeply felt performance.

CVV Magazine Review by Erin Anderson


 

POV's Best of Youtube: Music and Videos of other productions of Ariadne auf Naxos.

Opera from the Ground Up: Monday Magazine's preview of Ariadne auf Naxos and the set that POV has built for the production.

Times Colonist Preview by Amy Smart, explores Roger Honeywell's leap from classical actor to opera singer.


 

Overview

The richest man in Vienna is having a party. His guests will be treated to a new opera – the tragedy of the jilted Ariadne – followed by a burlesque farce, The Fickle Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers. When dinner runs late, the patron orders that both works be staged simultaneously.

What follows is a musical class war as the players perform a quirky mashup of high-minded opera and earthy comedy. Strauss has a field day with melody, tossing off playful roulades and sizzling coloratura, unveiling a kaleidoscope of lush orchestral textures and colours.

A cockeyed take on art, love, and fidelity, Ariadne auf Naxos is at once divinely comic and profoundly enchanting.


 

Cast and Creative Team


 

Synopsis

Our story is set in the home of "the richest man in Vienna," an aristocrat who has commissioned a promising and idealistic young composer to write a new opera seria to be presented this very evening for the entertainment of his upper-crust guests.

The Prologue takes us behind the scenes as preparations are underway for the performance. The composer is horrified to learn that his masterpiece, Ariadne auf Naxos, will be followed by a troupe of common slapstick comedians led by the saucy (if irresistible) Zerbinetta!

But worse news awaits. The imperious Major-domo announces that, as dinner has run longer than planned, the two performances must now be given simultaneously, and must end at precisely nine o'clock when a fireworks display is set to go off in the garden.

The outraged composer is reminded by his Music-master that payment in full depends on his acceptance of these new terms. Last-minute efforts are made to salvage the show: the comedians are given an outline of the opera's plot so they can improvise around it, and the Dance-master insists that cuts to the music will now be necessary, causing the leading soprano and tenor to demand that any cuts be made only to the other performer's part.

Zerbinetta turns the full force of her charm on the impressionable young composer, who then sings a paean to music, the holiest of arts which will always reign supreme. Seeing the comics in action, however, brings him down to earth and in despair he storms off stage.

The Opera takes place on the island of Naxos, where Ariadne has been abandoned by Theseus and is now watched over by three Nymphs, or female spirits: Naiad, Dryad, and Echo. Ariadne mourns her lost love and awaits the arrival of Hermes, who will accompany her to the realm of death.

In keeping with the arrangement suggested in the Prologue, the comedians now take over the action and try to amuse Ariadne, but in vain: she has loved one man and one man only, and now that he has abandoned her, only death can ease her suffering.

Zerbinetta, calling upon her own extensive experience with affaires de coeur, tries to persuade Ariadne that the best way to get over a broken heart is to find a new lover – they all seem like gods at first blush. Ariadne takes offence and retires to her grotto while, in a comic interlude, the clowns compete with one another for Zerbinetta's favors.

The Nymphs announce the approach of a ship carrying a newcomer to the island. Ariadne, briefly believing it to be the return of Theseus, continues to hope for relief from her suffering through death.

But the stranger is Bacchus, who has escaped the spell of the enchantress Circe and fallen in love with Ariadne. He assures her of his devotion (I have need of you above all!), while she, returning it, expresses amazement at the changes occurring within her (What remains of Ariadne?).

Zerbinetta reiterates her philosophy of love: When the new god approaches, we surrender without a word.

Robert Holliston


 

Clowning around with Commedia dell'arte

The players in the burlesque farce that is to be performed at the same time as the Ariadne opera are a merry troupe of clowns – Harlequin, Brighella, Scaramuccio, and Truffaldino – who try to cheer up Ariadne with their sheer silliness; at the same time, all four are jockeying for the affections of their leader, the irresistible Zerbinetta.

For Zerbinetta, it's always raining men. She is sincerely passionate about her lovers – until a new one comes along – and she cheerfully reels off a little catalogue of her past lovers:

Pagliaccio and Mezzetino! Then it was Cavicchio, then Burattino, then Pasquariello! Oh, and sometimes, it seems to me, there were two!

All Zerbinetta's men, like the four who pursue her in the opera, are commedia dell'arte characters. Below, Robert Holliston chats about this venerable form of comic theatre and tells us a little about Zerbinetta's lovers.

Notes on Commedia dell'arte

The term commedia dell'arte refers to a centuries-old tradition of improvised Italian theater (its original name was commedia all'improvvisso) in which an array of stock characters – foolish old men; devious servants; pedantic old doctors – can be presented in a variety of comic situations.

Contemporary issues were often subjected to satire and caricature. Troupes of professional actors donned elaborate costumes and masks and toured throughout Italian communities, playing on temporary outdoor stages and relying on props rather than traditional scenery.

Audiences were culled from all social strata – performers who were popular with kings and aristocrats were especially likely to become the stars of the day. The earliest surviving notarized contract establishing such a company dates from 1545, although the tradition itself undoubtedly goes back further.

The key element was improvisation (commedia erudita was the type of comedy fully written out by academics and performed by amateurs). Each performer perfected a certain character – Arlecchino, Brighella, Scaramuccio – who could then be inserted into any number of situations. Perhaps the closest 20th-century equivalents might be Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and Charlie Chaplin's little tramp.

In Ariadne auf Naxos the comics led by Zerbinetta are all derived from commedia dell'arte tradition.

Arlecchino (Harlequin), possibly the best-known of the servant characters, is traditionally clothed in a chequered costume; he has a love interest, Colombine, and usually tries to sabotage his master's plans. Incidentally, Arlecchino's prop was a paddle composed of two pieces of wood that slapped together producing a resounding whack when the paddle struck someone, usually on the posterior. This is where the term "slapstick" originates.

Truffaldino is a derivant of this character – some sources refer to him as Arlecchino's younger brother. Truffaldino often carries either a slapstick or a sword.

Brighella is frequently referred to as Arleccchino's scheming, vindictive, avaricious older brother, often depicted as a servant who has done some social climbing.

The roguish Scaramuccio is customarily dressed in black and entertains the audience with expressive grimaces and nonsensical gibberish (as the actors went from region to region they made no effort to modify their dialects, so much of the comedy was physical).

Zerbinetta's past lovers, like her clowns, were culled from the commedia dell'arte: Pagliaccio, famously depicted as a clown in Leoncavallo's opera, was the role usually given to the youngest member of the family (most commedia troupes were family based) and was thus at the bottom of the pecking order, sleeping in the stable (his name derives from the Italian word "pagliaio," or "pile of straw"). Less fixed a character than the others, he could be a servant or a young lover, often shy and invariably the butt of jokes.

Both Caviccio and Mezzetino were related to Brighella; albeit in the case of Mezzetino (whose name means "half-measure" – i.e., of liquor) gentler and more cultivated.

Pasquariello was a long-nosed servant or old man from Naples, often associated with the better known Pulcinella.

Burrattino, a good-natured but slow-witted character, did not achieve wide popularity until his incarnation as a puppet, which was so successful that by the end of the 16th century marionettes were frequently referred to as Burrattini.

Robert Holliston


 

Resources and Links


Ariadne auf Naxos: The Opera

  • Guide to the Opera: Pacific Opera Victoria's introduction to Ariadne auf Naxos includes a cast list, synopsis, discussion of the opera's background, links to resources, activities for students, and more.

  • Libretto of the Opera in German

  • Libretto of the Opera in English

  • Vocal score of the 1912 version: Ariadne auf Naxos: Opera in one Act by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Music by Richard Strauss, to play after Dem Bürger als Edelmann by Molière

    Hofmannsthal had originally conceived Ariadne auf Naxos as an add-on to Der Bürger als Edelmann, his adaptation of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Molière's great 17th century satire about a wannabe nobleman, the nouveau-riche M. Jourdain, who tries to pass as a sophisticated, cultured aristocrat.

    At its 1912 premiere, the unwieldy hybrid did not go over well. Both theatre and opera lovers chafed at the combination of full-length play plus opera (plus a lengthy intermission reception by the King of Württemberg that stretched the evening to Wagnerian proportions). As the work required both a company of actors and an opera company, it was also expensive and impractical to mount.

    Hofmannsthal then proposed a revision – that they keep the little opera, but turf the Molière and replace it with a prologue set backstage before the show. The revised Ariadne auf Naxos premiered in Vienna in 1916.

  • Vocal score of the 1916 version: Ariadne auf Naxos: Opera in one Act, together with a Prologue, by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, new revision. Music by Richard Strauss, Op. 60. This is the version of Ariadne auf Naxos that is almost always performed today, and the version that Pacific Opera Victoria is staging.

  • The Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière, translated into English.

  • Colored prints of costumes and sets for the original (1912) production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. From the Boston Public Library

  • Herr von Words and Doctor Music: an essay by David Littlejohn on Strauss and Hofmannsthal and their often fractious relationship, from his book The Ultimate Art: Essays around and about Opera.

Richard Strauss

  • Richard Strauss Online: a site presented by Richard and Christian Strauss, grandsons of the composer, with biographical information and discussion of his works and family life.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal

  • Hugo von Hofmannsthal Resource Center: Although some pages on this site are incomplete, it does include a brief biography of Hofmannsthal, along with short overviews of his lyric poetry, dramatic works, prose works, and operatic works.

  • Four poems by Hofmannsthal, in German, with English translations. Although he stopped writing poetry while still in his 20s, turning mostly to drama after that, it was as a poet that he first made his reputation.

Fun with Mythology

  • Greek Myths for Kids: Here's an enjoyable set of stories from Greek Mythology, including some of the stories that are connected with Ariadne auf Naxos: Theseus and the Minotaur and Dionysus (aka Bacchus) and Ariadne.

  • If Bacchus were on Facebook: Here's a fake online profile for Bacchus (aka Dionysus), complete with wall, photos, even a transcript of Dionysus' first and only session with Doctor Logos, renowned psychoanalyst.

    Bacchus was the son of the god Jupiter (Zeus) and the mortal Semele (who was tricked by Jupiter's jealous wife Juno into demanding that Jupiter reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood; that fiery glory was too much for any mortal, and Semele was incinerated).

    Bacchus was the god of agriculture and wine, of ecstasy, merriment, ritual madness, and (naturally) the theatre. He wandered all over Europe and Asia, teaching grape cultivation and winemaking.

    When Bacchus reached the Island of Naxos after his travels, he found the weeping Ariadne and fell in love with her. They married and had a dozen children.

  • The Minotaur's online profile: Ariadne's half brother, the Minotaur, was a monster with a bull's body and a human head (or vice versa, depending on the source). Ariadne's father, King Minos, kept the Minotaur in the elaborate Labyrinth he had built to house it, and fed it rations of Athenian youth and maidens – seven of each, chosen annually by lot and sent off to their doom.

    Theseus, the son of the Athenian king, aspired to be a hero like his cousin Hercules, and so volunteered to join the Minotaur's sacrificial victims in the hope of killing the monster. When he arrived in Crete, Ariadne fell in love with him. She gave him a sword to kill the Minotaur and a ball of thread to guide him out of the Labyrinth. Theseus killed the Minotaur and sailed off with Ariadne.

  • Online Profile for Theseus: For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, after they left Crete, Theseus dumped Ariadne ... on a desert island no less.

    After abandoning Ariadne on Naxos, Theseus headed home to Athens. Before embarking on his quest to kill the Minotaur, he had promised to change the sails of his ship from black to white if he succeeded. He forgot. When his father Aegeus saw the black sails, he believed his son was dead, and threw himself into the sea (now called the Aegean) in despair.

    Theseus became king and carried on with his numerous heroic exploits. He briefly abducted Helen of Troy (this was long before her liaison with Paris launched the thousand ships of the Trojan War), then married the queen of the Amazons, and finally took Phaedra, Ariadne's sister, as his wife.

    Ariadne doesn't have her own profile, but she writes a few snarky comments on Theseus' wall.

  • Online Profile for Circe:Circe was a sorceress who seduced men, drugged them, and transformed them into swine. Her most famous lover, Ulysses (Odysseus), resisted her magic, but stayed with her on her island for a year, feasting and drinking (this is one reason it took him 10 years to get home to his wife after the Trojan War).

    The ancient myths don't actually tell of an encounter between Bacchus and Circe. Milton invented that story, saying in his 1634 poem Comus that Comus, the god of revelry and festivity, was the son of Circe and Bacchus. Hofmannsthal riffs off Milton's version: Bacchus is a very young, rather naïve god when he lands on Circe's island; her transforming magic does not work on him, and he escapes; the next day he arrives at Naxos where he finds Ariadne, but is left a little wary, wondering whether she, like Circe, transforms her lovers.

  • Ariadne: A detailed examination of the story of Ariadne, with extensive quotations from ancient sources.

  • Ariadne's letter to Theseus: P. Ovidius Naso (usually known as Ovid) is best known for his 15-book collection of mythological stories, the Metamorphoses. Among his many other works are the Heroides (Heroines), a collection of verse letters written by mythological heroines to the lovers who have left them.

    Here is Ariadne's letter to Theseus when she awoke to find herself abandoned on Naxos. It sheds much light on the depth of her grief, beginning, Beasts of the most savage nature have proved more mild and gentle to me, than you; nor could I have been intrusted to more faithless hands.

  • Ariadne's Crown (Book III, March 8): As a wedding gift, Bacchus gave Ariadne a jewelled crown, which he later threw up into the heavens where it became the constellation Corona Borealis. Some sources say Bacchus put Ariadne's crown in the sky at her wedding; some say he did so after her death.

    Ovid told a different version of the story in his six-book Latin poem, the Fasti, which explores Roman history, religion, customs, and festivals. Ovid organizes his stories as a kind of calendar going from January to June. In Book III, March 8, he tells of the Cretan Crown, the Corona Borealis, explaining that the constellation was a gift from Bacchus to Ariadne to atone for his infidelity – surely one of the best apology gifts ever.

    In any case, Ariadne's crown, the Corona Borealis still shines. It will be just slipping over the northeast horizon as the curtain comes down on opening night of Ariadne auf Naxos, and will rise higher in the sky through the night.

Astronomy

  • Corona Borealis: An introduction to the constellation known as Ariadne's Crown, the Northern Crown, and Corona Borealis. Learn about the stars in this constellation, and explore other constellations.

  • Interactive Star Chart: Click on the Date and Location at the upper left of the map to set it for your time and location. Then you can discover which constellations are visible at the time and place you choose. Look for Ariadne's Crown, the Corona Borealis.

Island of Naxos

  • Official website of Naxos: Perhaps better known now as a record label, Naxos is an island in the Aegean Sea, almost equidistant from Athens, Turkey, and Crete. It has a population of about 20,000 people. Its chief town is also named Naxos. Zeus, the king of the gods is said to have grown up on the island, as did Bacchus. And yes, Naxos still has vineyards, and its people still make wine.

    In gratitude for the consummate work in which he has given artistic expression to the myth of Naxos, the Town Council of Naxos proclaimed Richard Strauss an honorary citizen

    Discover the history, mythology, customs, landscape, and architecture of Naxos; you'll even find traditional recipes here.

Lotte Lehmann, the first Composer

  • Genius on the Opera Stage: The Life and Art of Lotte Lehmann: Text of a lecture by Beaumont Glass, author of the official biography of Lotte Lehmann, Lotte Lehmann: A Life in Opera and Song.

    Strauss originally wrote the role of the composer in Ariadne auf Naxos for the famous soprano Marie Gutheil-Schoder. But when she missed a rehearsal, the understudy so impressed Strauss that he decided she would sing the role at the première of the 1916 version of the opera. That understudy was Lotte Lehmann. The role made her a star, and she went on to create other roles in Strauss operas, including the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten in 1919, Christine in Intermezzo in 1924, and the title role in Arabella in 1933. She also sang all three major roles in Der Rosenkavalier, as well as three different roles in Ariadne auf Naxos: Echo in the original 1912 version; the Composer in the world première of the revised 1916 version, and later, the title role of Ariadne.

  • Lotte Lehmann League: an exhaustive site devoted to Lotte Lehmann: pictures, letters, recordings, stories, interviews.


 

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