An impressive new production of “Ariadne auf Naxos” was unveiled at the Santa Fe Opera. Brilliantly conceived by British director Tim Albery,
[Below: the center of the island of Naxos, containing the cave of Ariadne (Amanda Echalaz, center right) and guarded by the nymphs Najade (Meryl Dominguez), Dryad (Samantha Gossard) and Echo (Sarah Tucker); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
Amanda Echalaz’ Ariadne and Bruce Sledge’s Bacchus
South African soprano Amanda Echalaz summoned her comedic skills for the “prologue” to the “opera”, in which she portrays a classic entitled diva.
Echalaz’ Soprano hilariously battles the encroachments on the size of her role by a rival artist, the temperamental Tenor, played by California tenor Bruce Sledge.
Echalaz demonstrated vocal power and endurance in the title role of Ariadne, deserted by a former lover on the island of Naxos. Echalaz spends most of the opera in a saucer-like structure awaiting what she anticipates will be her transformation through her death.
[Below: Ariadne (Amanda Echalaz), abandoned on Naxos, occupies a cave awaiting her fate; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
In fact, her transformation occurs in the form of a new lover with the arrival on Naxos of Bruce Sledge’s demigod Bacchus. Sledge’s voice displayed the spinto weight to be a creditable Bacchus, one of the shortest of the German heldentenor roles.
[Below: A confused Bacchus (Bruce Sledge, left) wonders why such an interesting woman as Ariadne (Amanda Echalaz, right) thinks his arrival means that it’s the end of her life; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
Liv Redpath’s Zerbinetta and Amanda Majeski’s Composer
Minnesota soprano Liv Redpath, in her career’s most important operatic role thus far, was triumphant as the dancer/improviser Zerbinetta. She assayed the vocal fireworks of Zerbinetta’s long and challenging aria Grossmächtige Prinzessin and was dazzling in her dance routines with the four men of her commedia dell’arte troupe.
[Below: Zerbinetta (Liv Redpath) has arrived on the island of Naxos; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
One of the production’s most engaging features is Zerbinetta’s impact on the opera-within-the-opera’s young composer, who is played by Illinois soprano Amanda Majeski in a standout performance. Majeski, whose large and expressive soprano voice was enlisted for the highly strung young man, was utterly convincing in the role.
[Below: the Composer (Amanda Majeski, right) explains the details of his opera as Zerbinetta (Liv Redpath, left) rests her head on his shoulder; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
In director Tim Albery’s staging, Majeski’s Composer is present at opera’s end. The Young Composer has watched Amanda Echalaz’ Ariadne’s surrender to Bruce Sledge’s Bacchus.
Soon, Liv Redpath’s deliberatively seductive Zerbinetta attracts his attention. She will teach the young Composer what he needs to know about women and love.
Jarrett Ott’s Arlecchino, Matthew DiBattista’s Scaramuccio, Terrence Chin-Loy’s Brighella and Anthony Robin Schneider’s Truffaldino
The production’s other delights include the antics of Zerbinetta’s four pagliacci, Harlequin (Pennsylvania baritone Jarrett Ott), Scaramuccio (Massachusetts tenor Matthew DiBattista), Brighella (Florida tenor Terrence Chin-Loy) and Truffaldino (New Zealand bass Anthony Robin Schneider).
[Below: Zerbinetta (Liv Redpath, above, second from left) explores the island of Naxos with her song and dance men (left to right, Brighella, Truffaldino, Harlequin and Scaramuccio); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
Dressed in formal attire with canes (albeit barefooted), their extensive and clever dance routines included a homage to American vaudeville. Maryland choreographer Kyle Lang was responsible for the crowd-pleasing dance numbers.
Rod Gilfry’s Music Master, Brenton Ryan’s Dancing Master, Kevin Burdette’s Major Domo and Other Cast Members
The prologue offers opportunities for principal singers to shine in relatively brief character roles.
The eminent California baritone Rod Gilfry made a strong impression singing the role of the beleaguered Music Master, the Composer’s teacher and agent.
[Below: Rod Gilfry as the Music Master; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
Missouri tenor Brenton Ryan brilliantly performed the role of the effete Dancing Master. The versatile Tennessee bass Kevin Burdette was superb as the snooty Major Domo (a speaking role).
[Below: the Dancing Master (Brenton Ryan, left) tries to calm the distressed Composer (Amanda Majeski, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
California baritone Jarrett Logan Porter was appropriately hysterical as the deeply insulted Wigmaker. Michigan bass Brent Michael Smith did a great job in the brief role of the Footman. North Carolina tenor Jesse Darden was an Officer.
[Below: Kevin Burdette as the Major Domo; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
The three nymphs – Najade (Pennsylvania soprano Meryl Dominguez), Dryad (Ohio mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard) and Echo (Texas soprano Sarah Tucker) – beautifully performed Strauss’ close harmonies.
Maestro James Gaffigan and the Musical Performance
The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra responded beautifully to New York Maestro James Gaffigan’s impassioned reading of Strauss’ masterpiece.
[Below: Maestro James Gaffigan; edited image of a professional photograph, from www.jamesgaffigan.com.]
Tim Albery’s Direction and Tobias Hoheisel’s Scenic and Costume Design
British stage director Tim Albery’s new production abounds in attractive features, distilling both the comic essence and the humanity of Strauss’ confection. Among those features is the division of the opera into both German (the world of Ariadne, Bacchus and the Nymphs) and English (the “backstage” world and the opera’s improvisational characters).
Under that formula, Albery translated the prologue into English and also translated the discussions that take place on Naxos among Zerbinetta and her men into English. The arias sung directly to Ariadne – Zerbinetta’s Grossmächtige Prinzessin and Harlequin’s Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen – are performed in German.
The backstage set for the Prologue was especially effective.
[Below: the backstage area to the in-house theater of the “richest man in Vienna”; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]
I suspect the Naxos set, created by Albery’s frequent collaborator, Tobias Hoheisel, was tongue-in-cheek. We know “the richest man in Vienna” is annoyed with the set for Naxos sitting in the middle of his ballroom. Hoheisel’s set seems designed to be just what would annoy such a man.
I enthusiastically recommend the cast and production both for the veteran opera goer and the adventurous person new to opera.