Claus Guth’s 2006 production of Ariadne auf Naxos recorded at the Opernhaus Zürich in 2006 is a compelling piece of theatre. It’s one of those Regietheater pieces that combines a workable concept with compelling Personenregie to create a whole that’s extremely illuminating. The entire Vorspiel is played out, in modern dress, in front of a grey curtain. We get an immediate idea of how Guth is going to explore/exploit metatheatricality as soon as the Haushofmeister appears. He’s played by none other than Zürich Intendant Alexander Pereira. Who is calling the shots? This is reinforced when he drops the bombshell that the opera seria must be combined with Zerbinetta’s farce. This speech is delivered by Pereira from among his guests in the Intendant’s box. It’s very clever. But there’s so much more going on during the Vorspiel. The Komponist is getting seriously deranged; perhaps even more so after he begins his infatuation with Zerbinetta. There’s a moment when it looks like a love triangle is being set up. The diva just gives one look that suggests that she’s got her eyes on the Komponist. It’s a typical moment. A look, a gesture, seems to convey so much. It all concludes with the deranged Komponist shooting himself.
In the opera proper we are in a restaurant. Apparently it’s a replica of a pretty pricey boite a couple of blocks from the opera house. Ariadne sits drinking. The nymphs are waitresses. On their first appearance so are Zerbinetta and her troupe but they soon reappear as rather drunk diners. And the Komponist’s ghost is wandering around. As we go through the big numbers Ariadne just gets more depressed as Zerbinetta’s boys get more out of control. Grossmächtige Prinzessin (during which Zerbinetta dances with the dead Komponist) does nothing to bring Ariadne round and by the time Bacchus arrives she’s pretty screwed up. Not long after that she takes a massive overdose and spends the rest of the opera dying. She dies in Bacchus’ arms but the final few bars play out over Pereira and the Musiklehrer presenting flowers and congratulations to the diva and the tenor. In the ladt analysis it’s a show. Metatheatricality has the last word.
How about the performances? The acting is strong, greatly helped one imagines by the direction. The singing is a bit more of a mixed bag. The stand out is Emily McGee’s Diva/Ariadne. She sings with rich, full tone and great feeling throughout. It’s very fine. Michelle Breedt’s Komponist is also very decent. I’ve heard richer tone in this role but Breedt’s characterisation is very good. Elena Mosuc’s Zerbinetta is unusual and probably largely a matter of taste. She’s rather fuller toned than most and maybe not as agile as some in the coloratura passages. It seems to work in this production but it’s a very different approach and sound than, say, Natalie Dessay. Michael Volle is an interesting, world weary Musiklehrer and Roberto Sacca does just fine as Bacchus. Is it really possible to make this role interesting? Zerb’s troupe and the nymphs plus the other minor characters sound just fine. Indeed, on occasions the triad of nymphs sound really beautiful. Christoph von Dohnányi conducts. It’s quite a heavy, dramatic approach to the score. It fits the production but I might have preferred something a little more agile and rhythmically precise.
I’m not convinced that Thomas Grimm’s video direction does justice to the stage performance. It;s easy to see why he concentrates on close ups of the principal characters who are acting their socks off but I feel that we are missing a lot of the stage action. It was well into to the opera proper before I realised that the Komponist’s ghost was wandering around for example and a fleeting glimpse of a character with the head of an ass in the Vorspiel didn’t help much! There’s a lot going on in the restaurant that we don’t see on the video I think. Video direction aside, the recording is pretty decent. Sound (DTS, Dolby surround and stereo) and video quality are perfectly OK for DVD. It’s not the latest HD quality but it’s OK. There are no extras on the disk and the booklet was missing from my copy so no comments on that. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.