Scottish Opera bring their production of Ariadne Auf Naxos to The Festival Theatre Edinburgh this week (5 + 7 April) as part of a very short performance run that included only Glasgow in March. Judging by the reviews already from Glasgow and the audience reaction tonight, this is all too short a run for many people of this work by Richard Strauss that not only provides some wonderful music, but shines a spotlight through an inventive story and merging of performance arts on the very nature of not only perceived class superiority, but performance art superiority in many people’s minds.
This opera/play has gone through more than a few revisions since its original performance in 1912, but over a hundred years on, the very nature of the questions raised are still as relevant today as they were then. Thankfully though today, we are a long way away from the original performance time of around six hours, and tonight’s performance time of the introduction to the chaos that has led to the double booking of performances at the large home of our very wealthy and unseen “host” and the actual “agreed merging” of them as the performance in the second half that must go ahead for the invited guests and be finished in time for the fireworks display, is just about right for modern audiences with an often far shorter attention span.
The opening scenes that set up the second half are funny, comedic and full of lightness that are in total contrast to what is to come later. In keeping with our mergence of performing arts theme, Music Master (Sir Thomas Allen) and The Party Planner (Eleanor Bron) are both on wonderful form here and so obviously having a lot of fun being on stage together, and Composer (Julia Sporsén) gives us an at times suitably “over the top” performance of what many people imagine an over-sensitive “creative” to be like whilst at the same time putting in a fine vocal performance. Here, the class perceptions and pretentions of our principal performers are also set by our main “Ariadne operatic cast”
Prima Donna/Ariadne - Mardi Byers
Tenor/Bacchus - Kor-Jan Dusseljee
Zerbinetta - Jennifer France
From the very start, the difference between Ariadne and Zerbinetta is obvious, but this is opera and as our story unfolds, both our principal ladies are on a journey of personal discovery.
In our second act, and completely uninterrupted by any breaks, our performance within a performance starts and Ariadne Auf Naxos transports us to the island of Naxos and an at times odd mixture of gods and mythology from both Greek and Roman sources.
Opera has produced some of the most tragic women in any art form, and it is no understatement to say that Ariadne is NOT a happy woman. American soprano Mardi Byers, making her first appearance in the UK, is impressive as Ariadne, and it is easy to see her performances are leaving their mark on many international stages and Tenor/Bacchus performed by Kor-Jan Dusseljee provides a perfect counter balance to Ariadne here.
Making a big impression on everyone all evening though with her performance of Zerbinetta, Jennifer France got not only the vocal performance just right, but also that playfulness that you would expect of Zerbinetta.
As always, with any production like this, the whole is a combination of many people’s work and performances, so a mention has to go to everyone performing here.
Special mention here to for Director & Designer Antony McDonald and Lighting Designer Wolfgang Göbbel.
I want to deviate a little from the actual review here of this performance as given the subject matter of Ariadne Auf Naxos and its spotlight on perceived class and performance arts status, I think it is pertinent here to shine a spotlight on Scottish Opera as a performing arts company. There is something very relevant here as I think everyone in Scottish Opera needs to take some well deserved praise for massive efforts that they make on a continual basis to erode any pre-conceived perceptions that any people might still have of opera and make it accessible to everyone through not only getting out on the road and taking opera to many smaller venues that you might not expect them to perform at but also an intensive educational programme that sees the company introducing opera to everyone from the very young onwards. Scottish Opera also has a very active programme of investing in and developing the next generation of performance artists, composers, designers and technical crews. I have never found anyone from Scottish Opera to have the slightest pretentions of their art and to simply be lovers of what music can do to tell a story.
If you are reading this review and have never been to an opera before, please take a chance and go as the range of performances is huge and you can enjoy everything from the classics to light comedy. Ticket prices may also surprise you in their range of price options, and if you are under 26 years of age, then there are some amazing ticket deals out there for you. For more information, visit their website at.
Review by Tom King