Ariadne Auf Naxos review at Opera Holland Park, London – ‘a vibrant production’
Hot on the heels of a well-received revival of Mascagni’s forgotten Isabeau, Opera Holland Park chalks up its first Richard Strauss opera with a vibrant Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Antony McDonald in his OHP debut.
McDonald doubles as the production’s designer, and in the Prologue (sung in English, in a spiky new translation by Helen Cooper), it seems at first that visual values might have the upper hand. The staging is unsure at times as the presenters of a ‘serious’ opera (including a passionate Julia Sporsen as the Composer) spar with the members of a burlesque company.
The unexplained shift of the setting from Vienna to the estate of “the richest man in Glasgow” allows Eleanor Bron to have a splendid time flexing her Scottish accent in the spoken role of the bossy Party Planner, who takes great glee in announcing that opera and burlesque must be performed simultaneously.
In the opera’s second half, the OHP production comes into its own, as the burlesque troupe’s jollity collides with the sombre Ariadne story, meshing light and darkness.
Here McDonald’s designs serve his directorial vision, not least with the stunning black-and-white gowns of Ariadne’s three servants (their coordinated movements and tight vocal ensemble are mesmerising) and the eccentric clothing, including a galleon ship hat, worn the four men in the burlesque troupe.
Mardi Byers is an affecting Ariadne, emerging from darkest, ochre-voiced gloom to radiant joy with arrival of Bacchus (Kor-Jan Dusseljee). Jennifer France embodies the role of the life-loving Zerbinetta, sparkling in the coloratura showpiece Grossmachtige Prinzessin.
The City of London Sinfonia provides a lovely, textured sound in what is some of Strauss’s most lush music, and plaudits to conductor Brad Cohen for ensuring throughout a fine balance between singers and orchestra in a challenging acoustic space.