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Strauss Ariadne on Naxos

Strauss, R: Ariadne auf Naxos (Prologue and Opera)

English translation by Christopher Cowell

Alice Coote (Composer), Christine Brewer (Ariadne/Prima Donna), Robert Dean Smith (Bacchus/The Tenor),
Gillian Keith (Zerbinetta), Stephen Fry (Major-Domo - non-singing)
Alan Opie (Music Master), John Graham-Hall (Dancing Master/Scaramuccio), Roderick Williams (Harlequin), Matthew Rose (Truffaldino), Wynne Evans (Brighella), Paul Keohone (Wig-Maker), Dean Robinson (Footman), Declan McCusker (An Officer)

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite

Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Richard Armstrong; recorded at Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Chandos Opera in English - CHAN3168 (2)

We have mixed feelings about these three works, which caused tension between composer and librettist. As previously, I tend to prefer the Prologue, and think that Alice Coote as the Composer had the plum role rather than the starred Christine Brewer, who is in radiant voice but has the least interesting of the three soprano parts, dare one say?

For sexual allure, Zerbinetta every time, and Gillian Keith, terrific in her ten minute solo, kept it all in line; how right the "2nd cast" was to insist that the show would be a bore without them, and the Ariadne opera a likely flop!

The English/German issue brought me mixed feelings. The Prologue is hugely successful, fired especially by Stephen Fry and John Grahame-Hall's dancing master. It is very wordy, and a mercy not to be peering at sur-titles or sub-titles. With the libretto on one's lap, you get far more of the wit.

This advantage applied less in the Ariadne/Bacchus sections; clearly Robert Dean-Smith was no God. I found him OK, but his voice really not heroic enough for his seduction routine. Play the Suite afterwards, not as a prologue to the Prologue.

But all this is perhaps frivolous about an ever popular repertoire staple, which is well performed here and, on balance, more to my taste in English. The supporting 70-page booklet, appropriately in English alone, is well documented and fully illustrated. The recording took more than a dozen days, with series of recording engineers between January & May 2010 and I recommend a behind the scenes illustrated posting.

For a CD version in the original German, we'd recommend the historic Legge/Schwartzkopf recording and on DVD, Opus Arte's up-dated version (Dresden 1999) conducted by Sir Colin Davis, with Jon Villars blazing forth as Bacchus, Susan Anthony a visually and vocally ravishing Ariadne and Iride Martinez, Zerbinetta, having a good laugh at herself.

Peter Grahame Woolf