Scottish Opera's highly enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos is proof that unlikely ideas can work
- Carol Main
- 26 March 2018
Powerful performances and a sense of fun elicits entertaining results
Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos is rather an odd opera. An opera within an opera plus a burlesque troupe who are also after the limelight on the same stage is the result of Strauss's libretto collaborator, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, having the unorthodox idea of combining 17th century Molière with conventional opera seria.
Setting it in Glasgow was a clever comedic tactic from director Antony McDonald, with the mansionhouse of the richest man in the city being the place where it all takes place, and actress Eleanor Bron putting on a pretty convincing Glasgow accent as his in-house party planner. That the collision of composer/professor/prima donna with a rough at the edges bunch of cabaret artists came off as a highly enjoyable evening of music and theatre is proof that sometimes the most unlikely of ideas can work.
In this co-production between Scottish Opera and Investec Opera Holland Park – a partnership that has already resulted in the highly successful production of Jonathan Dove's Flight – it is the women who stand out as the characters who steer and sustain a path through the piece's complexities, none more so than Swedish soprano Julia Sporsén as the composer. A role conceived for a soprano playing a man, hers is updated to a female composer, shedding fresh light on the relationships at play.
Leading the entertainers, former Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Jennifer France is an impressive Zerbinetta, stripping burlesque style while singing coloratura in towering high heels is no mean feat. Similarly, Mardi Byers' portrayal of the title role is deeply powerful. Under conductor Brad Cohen, the orchestra brought a range of instrumental colour and sense of fun to the score.
Given that the major fire in Glasgow the week of opening night resulted in the first date of the run being cancelled, it was perhaps a little ironic that the opera concluded with an onstage fireworks display. And very pretty it was too.