R. Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
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Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos
In 1942 Richard Strauss, then approaching his eightiethbirthday, recalled that the original intention behindAriadne auf Naxos was as a grateful offering to thetheatre director Max Reinhardt (1873-1943). It was toform an epilogue to a comedy by Moli?â?¿re, Le bourgeoisgentilhomme. The original concept had been a half-hourlong opera for a small chamber orchestra. This was laterexpanded to the play, which Hofmannsthal had reducedfrom five acts to two, followed by a ballet concludingwith a commedia dell'arte. The resulting premi?â?¿re tookplace at the Kleines Haus of the Hoftheater in Stuttgarton 25th October 1912 under the composer. Thereception was decidedly mixed, with the audienceobviously unhappy with the excess of spoken dialoguein the Moli?â?¿re play to which Strauss had addedincidental music, and with only a single act of totalmusic. The performance of this version was both costlyand ineffective in that a double cast of actors andsingers was involved.
In July 1916 composer and librettist decided torecast Ariadne by prefacing the revised version with aPrologue of some forty minutes which explained thecircumstances in which an eighteenth-century operaseria came to be performed simultaneously with itscomic interlude. They also omitted the spoken playaltogether, and removed the character of MonsieurJourdain, transfering the setting from Paris to Vienna.
The resulting work is an opera of considerablesophisticated lyrical charm, Strauss continuing to writein his Mozartian manner that he had first used sosuccessfully in Der Rosenkavalier in 1911.
Furthermore, in the Prologue the composer displayssome of his idea about music and drama that wouldcome to culmination in Capriccio in 1942.
This version was first heard in the Court Theatre inVienna on 4th October 1916 under Franz Schalk (1863-1931) and is the form in which the opera is now almostinvariably performed. The original incidental music wasused for Hofmansthal's adaptation of the Moli?â?¿reoriginal in a production in Berlin in April 1918. LaterStrauss made a nine-movement concert suite DerB?â??rger als Edelmann, which was first heard in Viennain January 1920 under the composer's direction.
Following the premi?â?¿re of Salome in Dresden inDecember 1905, Strauss, now having reached earlymiddle age, became increasingly an operatic soprano'scomposer. From this date on the operas becomedominated by a female character, so that the composerdisplays the psychology, feelings and failings like ahusband who is fully inside his wife's many-sidedmind. In Ariadne the three principal female r?â??les of TheComposer (a travesti r?â??le), Ariadne and Zerbinetta arethree such examples in a single work.
The revised score of Part One is a series of briefscenes involving the opera seria singers and thecommedia dell'arte characters, the Composer andmembers of the household of the nobleman who hascommissioned the new opera seria. Part Two containsAriadne's first Monologue in which she recalls her lovefor Theseus (Ein Schones war), followed by theHarlequin's Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen. Ariadne, inher second Monologue, meditates on the kingdom ofdeath which she longs to enter (Es gibt ein Reich),contrasted by a vocal quartet from the comedians (DieDame gibt mit tr?â??ben Sinn). Then follows Zerbinetta'slong and extremely difficult coloratura recitative, ariaand rondo finale (Gro?â?©machtige Prinzessin), andeventually the opera ends with the long extended loveduet between Ariadne and Bacchus (Du schones Wesen... Bin ich ein Gott), concluding with their ascent intothe sky together.
This recording of Ariadne auf Naxos was the first tobe made in the studio (an earlier one, made live inVienna in June 1944, commemorated the composer'seightieth birthday). This studio one, made in Londononly five years after Strauss's death in 1949, issignificant in that most of the artists had been activeduring the composer's later years and some had evenmet Strauss in the last ten years of his life. Thus it has aparticular historic feel. Masterminded by EMI recordingproducer and impresario Walter Legge (1906-1979) itcontained some of the finest singers of the day and usedLegge's own orchestra, the Philharmonia. TheGramophone magazine, when first reviewing therecording in October 1955, thought \the opera isperfectly cast, magnificently performed, and very wellrecorded". The orchestra was praised for its brilliance,while the singers were also judiciously commentedupon. "Schwarzkopf brings the dark tone that is neededfor Ariadne's sorrows, and all the rapture called for atthe end". As the Composer Irmgard Seefried wasthought to display great variety of tone, the Zerbinettaof Rita Streich displayed no technical difficultieswhatsoever, and the Bacchus of Rudolf Schock sang"with heroic tone and sufficient nuance to make onebelieve in the youthful god". Of Karajan "his genius hasnever been more apparent in the [Bacchus-Ariadne]scene".
The Austrian-born conductor Herbert vonKarajan (1908-1989) studied first in Salzburg and thenin Vienna under Franz Schalk. He made his debut inUlm in 1929 and remained there for five years, movingto Aachen between 1935-37. A much-praised Berlindebut conducting Tristan und Isolde led to hisinternational career. Banned from conducting in publicfrom 1945 to 1947, he made his first Londonappearance in 1948 and became a regular visitor for thenext decade, appearing increasingly with thePhilharmonia Orchestra. Karajan was appointedconductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955and continued until his death. He also appeared duringthe same period both in Vienna and at the SalzburgFestival in July and August in addition to the SalzburgEaster Festival that he inaugurated in 1967, so that hisprestige and influence were enormous. He became themost significant conductor during the second half of thetwentieth century. In addition Karajan also conducted atLa Scala in Milan and appeared in Japan. He left a largenumber of filmed recordings of his conducting. As aninterpreter, he is thought to have made more recordingsthan any other classical musician during his career.
The r?â??le of Ariadne is sung by the German sopranoElisabeth Schwarzkopf (b. 1915). She studied at theBerlin Hochschule f?â??r Musik and later with the sopranoMaria Ivog?â??n, making her debut as one of theFlowermaidens in Parsifal with the Stadtische Oper,Berlin, in 1938. Originally a lyrical soprano sheundertook r?â??les such as Adele in Die Fledermaus,Musetta in La Boh?â?¿me and Zerbinetta in Ariadne aufNaxos when she joined the Vienna State Opera underKarl Bohm in 1943. Her first overseas appearance waswith this company on their visit to London in 1947when she sang Donna Elvira, and Marzelline in Fidelio.
She then joined the fledgling Covent Garden Company,where for five seasons she sang a variety of r?â??les,mostly in English. Alongside these appearances,Schwarzkopf sang at the Salzburg Festival (1946-1964),La Scala, Milan (1948-1963), San Francisco (1955-1964) and, finally, the Metropolitan in New York in1964. She was greatly admired in the r?â??les of theMarschallin, Fiordiligi, the Countess in Le nozze diFigaro and Donna Elvira. She also had a distinguishedparallel career as a Lieder singer in the concert hall. Shewas the wife of the impresario and recording producerWalter Legge, whom she married in 1953.
The r?â??le of Bacchus is sung by German tenorRudolf Schock (1915-1986). He was born in Duisburgand studied singing in Cologne and Hanover. His stagedebut was at Brunswick in 1937 but his singing careerwas interrupted by five years of military service. In1946 the Staatsoper in both Berlin and Hamburgengaged him, and he remained with the latter until 1956.
His Salzburg Festival debut was in 1948, followed bytwo seasons at Covent