Sunday, July 20, 2014

An unhappy diva is sad to see!

I have made public before today my opinions on updating operas from the time they were intended to the current time, or from a remote past to a less remote past. I have stated that the usual intended purpose--to clarify social roles and power structures--is usually not met successfully. I have stated that attention to period detail--or worse yet, inattention to period detail--can provide more distraction than clarification.

Christine Goerke as the Prima Donna
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Disregard all that. The opening of the Glimmerglass Festival's production of Ariadne auf Naxos--rather, Ariadne in Naxos--provided insight aplenty and many, many sensory pleasures! As Francesca Zambello stated when I spoke to her recently, why shouldn't this extravagant entertainment be thrown as part of some house party at one of the many grand estates in New York? New York has an Ithaca, a Syracuse, a Utica--why not a Naxos? Think Rockefeller instead of Esterhazy. I believe in this case the update worked!

Ariadne auf Naxos is already a silly story, but often the comedy is not clear enough. This new English version by Kelly Rourke made sense out of what has always seemed to me to be a chaotic Act I. The richest man in Vienna (or Cooperstown?) has arranged for an evening's entertainment to include both a new opera and a popular song and dance troupe. The fact the evening's entertainment includes both is appalling enough, but, in the interest of finishing the entertainments in time to see the scheduled fireworks display, the assembled parties are instructed to combine the two so that the patron will be satisfied in seeing both contracts fulfilled. (I was still thinking in legal terms after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's program that afternoon.) Act II is the combined opera seria of the serious young Composer we met in Act I with the commedia dell'arte-inspired song and dance act.

Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad,
Jacqueline Echols as Echo and Catherine Martin as Composer 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Updating the story to what could be today at a grand estate in upstate or central New York worked for me. The diva behavior of the Prima Donna and the Tenor is timeless. The naive, reckless, idealistic behavior of the Composer is timeless, as well. Making Zerbinetta and her troupe of commedia dell'arte players into a girl singer and her boy-band dancers might be a bit dated already, but that's part of their charm. The Tanzmeister (very well done by John Kapusta) becomes something of a manager for the boy band, and the Musiklehrer (quite nicely performed by Adam Ciofarri) becomes the Composer's agent.

Taking the pants off the Composer, a role always sung by a mezzo pretending to be a naive teenage boy, also makes sense. Catherine Martin acted the naive, young, self absorbed Composer quite effectively, and sang quite beautifully. Her bio lists roles much heavier and lower than those associated with women who sing the Composer, so she deserves additional kudos for successfully negotiating this fiendishly high mezzo role. I liked the directorial touch of having her on stage for much of Act II, although her role is usually considered done at the close of Act I.

Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta and
Carlton Ford as Harlequin
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
In Act II, when we see the Composer's very, very serious opera (auf Deutsch, to show just how serious!) juxtaposed against the pop sentiments of Zerbinetta's troupe (in American English), we see even more of a payoff. In fact, one of the best moments is when the four dancing boys sing in German, seeming to mock Ariadne's grief.

I can not praise the cast highly enough! Christine Goerke, whom I truly did not praise highly enough when I saw her as the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met last spring, was a delight to see and hear as the Prima Donna/Ariadne. Full, luscious tones that were most at home in the huge, Wagnerian phrases of "Es gibt ein Reich" and her final duet with Bacchus. ZOMG, as the young people say! Ms. Goerke has a wonderful sense of humor, and seemed to relish in poking fun at the Prima Donna character. She was accompanied quite ably by Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad and Jacqueline Echols as Echo.

As Zerbinetta, Rachele Gilmore brought a sound that grew in beauty through the evening so that her showpiece aria in Act II was not only a delight, but an almost explosive joy! Tiny and beautiful, this young woman made the most out of Zerbinetta's earthy yet idealistic sentiments, while also controlling the four dancing boys portrayed with great charm and wit by Carlton Ford, Gerard Michael D'Emilio, Andrew Penning, and Brian Ross Yeakley. Carlton Ford's Harlekin was especially charming and self absorbed, and Mr. Ford's singing was lovely to hear.

Corey Bix sang the demanding role of Bacchus in glorious, unforced tones. (I have to confess I never find that role very interesting, though.) Musical theater veteran Wynn Harmon seems to have already established himself as a staple of the Glimmerglass stage, and as the Manager of the Estate, he was delightfully arrogant and pretentious.

I have to praise the creative team in the highest terms! Director Francesca Zambello, scenic designer Troy Hourie, costume designer Eric Teague, lighting designer Mark McCullough, choreographer Eric Sean Fogel (whom I've praised before)--the work of all was simply stunning. Conductor Kathleen Kelly brought everything together quite beautifully.

Ariadne in Naxos continues through August 23. Once again, I highly recommend seeing this Glimmerglass show.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun! Ariadne in an NY summer home sounds wickedly apt. I'm finding it a bit difficult to imagine Ariadne in English, to be honest, but playing up the linguistic contrast is an interesting idea. Also, I have to confess that I'm super envious of your getting to hear Goerke's Ariadne.