By: David Sheward
Setting Richard Strauss’ delightful dual-personality opera Ariadne in Naxos in 2014 doesn’t sound like it would wo
rk, but the Glimmerglass Festival’s sparkling modern take staged by artistic director Francesca Zambello somehow does. The original takes place in the 18th century home of the richest man in Vienna where an opera composer and his diva are forced to share the stage with a troupe of low-comedy dancers. The two factions clash during a prologue and in the second act high art and popular entertainment blend as the composer’s piece is combined with the comic group’s improvisations, led by the enchanting Zerbinetta.
With the aide of set designer Troy Hourie and costume designer Erik Teague, Zambello has transported the proceedings to a barn on an estate in upstate New York, somewhere in the vicinity of the real festival’s location, Cooperstown. There’s even a live goat and chicken to enhance the rural atmosphere. The composer, a trouser role written for a soprano voice, is played as an actual woman which leads to a lesbian connection between the musician and the intoxicating Zerbinetta. The "modern" portions of the libretto (the prologue and the dancers’ lines) are sung in English (the witty adaptation is by Kelly Rourke) while the opera-within-in-an-opera is sung in the original German. Just as the diverse elements of Strauss’ conceit complement each other, the contemporary setting accentuates the theme of grand music integrated with burlesque guffaws without distracting from it. Zambello skillfully puts across both the ridiculous and the sublime.
In the first category, the comedians led by Rachele Gilmore’s raucously divine Zerbinetta, provide plenty of diversion. Gilmore lends sparkle and panache to Zerbinetta’s extended aria which celebrates the character’s joie de vivre. Wielding a pair of black ostrich fans like a Follies Bergere headliner, Gilmore is a dazzling charmer. Carlton Ford offers sturdy and sexy support as her chief sidekick Harlequin. Representing the sublime, Christine Goerke displays a masterful, rich dramatic soprano in her Ariadne moments of despair and yearning and is ticklishly amusing as the temperamental diva in the prologue. She definitely has a future playing Wagner’s large-voiced heroines.
Corey Bix admirably fills the tenor role opposite Ariadne and Catherine Martin expertly limns the composer’s neurotic fussiness and her infatuation with Zerbinetta. There are also valuable contributions from Adam Cioffari as a savvy agent, Wynn Harmon as the officious manager of the estate, John Kapusta as a snippy choreographer, and Jeni Houser, Beth Lytwynec, and Jacqueline Echols as a trio of nymphs.
All opera directors should take a look at this production to learn how to successfully transpose classic works to modern settings.
July 19-Aug. 23. Glimmerglass Festival at the Alice Busch Opera Theatre, 7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, NY. Repertory schedule. Running time: two hours and 50 mins. including one intermission. $10-$144. 607-547-2255 or www.glimmerglass.org.
Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Christine Goerke as Ariadne, Gerard Michael D’Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Carlton Ford as Harlequin in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Strauss’ "Ariadne in Naxos."
Photos: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad, Jacqueline Echols as Echo, Christine Goerke as Prima Donna, Adam Cioffari as Agent, John Kapusta as Dance Captain, Catherine Martin as Composer, Carlton Ford as Harlequin, Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta, Gerard Michael D’Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Wynn Harmon as Manager of the Estate.