‘Ariadne auf Naxos’ (Royal Scottish National Orchestra) | Review By T. G. Hofman

It’s the party to end all parties. But two entertainments have been double-booked to mark the evening’s climax – a serious opera and a slapstick comedy. The star soprano is throwing a tantrum and the staff are hiding the chaos from the boss. There’s only one solution: perform both shows at the same time.

I am always wary of concert versions of operas. Far too often they end up being static ‘stand-and-sing’ versions of the works that gloss over character, story, and style for impressive musicality and a ‘quick buck’. Not so with Louisa Muller’s brilliant staging of this version of Richard Strauss’ 1912 work. Muller captures the absolute absurdity of the Prologue with style and panache and blends this seamlessly with the moments of opera seria that sets both styles on a never-ending path to outdo each other until we finally reach the opera within the opera. There is nothing static about Muller’s production and the staging is dynamic and attention grabbing from the very start. Lothar Koenigs at the stand delivers the sumptuous sounds of the RSNO with ease and any concerns about the acoustic integrity of the make-shift concert hall (that looked a little like an aircraft hangar) had vanished by the end of the third bar.

The cast is a veritable ‘who’s who’ of revered opera stars, Grammy winners and soon to be household names. There is not a single weak link in the entire line up. It was also a special treat to see Thomas Quasthoff take some time off from his busy retirement to bring us the spoken role of the Major Domo. Dorothea Röschmann is still one of the standout talents of her generation and she makes the prima donna role look like an amble through the park as her Ariadne finally meets her Bacchus played by David Butt Philip who is the very embodiment of the heroic tenor. Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta wows the audience throughout and commands comedy and drama in equal measure while Catriona Morison delivers an absolute powerhouse of a performance with her Travesti role of the Composer. The supporting roles are no less skilled and the four players (Harlequin, Scaramuccio, Truffaldino and Brighelle) brought to life by Joshua Hopkins, Alexander Sprague, Barnaby Rea and Sunnyboy Dladla look like they’re having an absolute ball on stage and Liv Redpath, Clarie Barnett-Jones and Soraya Mafi are the definition of divine in their portrayals of the nymphs.

On opening night there are always going to be tweaks required and there were one or two of moments where the balance between the orchestra and singer wasn’t quite as well placed as it could have been. However, these moments were soon forgiven and forgotten as the piece was brought to life which such relish and joy.

There are concert versions of operas that appear lazy and underthought, but Muller’s version of Ariadne auf Naxos is not one of them. I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket for her full version of the production if she is ever given the opportunity to stage it.

An awesome night of opera from those at the top of their game.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

25th – 29th August 2021

Edinburgh Academy Junior School

Conducted by Lothar Koenigs | Directed by Louisa Muller



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