Ariadne auf Naxos
‘Ariadne’ amusingly collides two genres into one
|Lyric Opera of Chicago presents|
|Ariadne auf Naxos|
Review by Katy Walsh
I’ve gone back to my old high school to see a musical. It was uncomfortable. After regularly seeing full-blown Chicago-based extravaganzas, the hometown version made me feel self-conscious and snobby. I was uneasy when my friend, the director, eagerly asked me what I thought of the car. I bit back the clarification, ‘the crappy cardboard cut-out?‘ And went with ‘the red color was a nice choice.‘ What can I say? I try never to compare a small theatre’s production to a seasoned theatre’s spectacle. Until now…
The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Ariadne auf Naxos, opera in a prologue and one act in German. The prologue opens backstage and below stage of an opera house. The *composer* has written a dramatic opera. His show is to be directly followed by a light comedy, ‘Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers.’ The young composer is outraged. But before he can get use to the idea of being the opening act for a vaudevillian headliner, the sponsor changes the plan. The shows will be performed together. Even though the comedy troupe is ready to improv into the drama, the composer wants out. Zerbinetta uses her acting abilities to convince him to mount the show. He relents. The one-act opera compromises as a diva-esque drama with a side of slapstick. Ariadne auf Naxos collides two genres in amusement.
Set and costume designer Robert Perdziola reinforces the story with an elaborate behind-the-scenes-under-the-boards look at the theatre. The prologue takes place backstage and below-stage of an opera house. On an upperlevel, two guys are sweeping the pretend stage. On the real stage, wooden scaffolding and massive mechanics show the non-glamorous side of a show. In Act 1, a diorama of a cave setting and stagehands reinforce that we are watching a play and an opera within an opera. Along with Lighting Designer Duane Schuler, the cave effectively is lit to show the diva’s rose-colored conclusion. There is an absolutely stunning end scene with dangling chandeliers that is gasp-worthy gorgeous. Now, this type of theatrical eye candy is pretty typical for the Lyric. So, Zerbinetta and her guys heighten the buffoonery by showing up on the set in crappy cardboard cutouts and makeshift outfits. The visual contrast keeps the combined shows whimsically entertaining.
If the last opera opening, Boris Godunov, was/is for they boys (our review), then this opera is ladies night. The three female principle parts are sung to perfection. In the prologue, Alice Coote (composer) creates an earnest desire to create musical art. Coote is wonderful playing a composer trying not to compromise his artistic vision. Her duet with Anna Christy (Zerbinetta) is a delightful seduction. Although delivering serious powerhouse singing, Christy still has fun with this part. She and her four lovers continually force comedy into the stage drama. They are hilarious. The real opera within the opera diva Amber Wagner (Prima Donna/Ariadne) commands the stage with passionate soul searching. Her quest leads her into a solid duet with Brandon Jovanovich (Bacchus). Their tryst is so enchanting that I forget meeting them in the prologue. Wagner and Jovanovich effectively transform from high-maintenance performers to soul-mate lovers.
Ariadne auf Naxos is unique. It pokes fun of the composer’s creative process, sponsor’s over-involvement and performers’ demanding nature. It’s behind-the-curtain fun. Still, the opera within the opera is an emotional journey to love. There are strong moments of heart-tugging chopped into the light-hearted merriment of one woman wooing four men. It’s seriously playful and playfully serious. It’s two operas within one.
Ariadne auf Naxos continues through December 11th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map), with performances November 22, 28, December 2, and 7 at 7:30pm; December 11th performance at 2pm. Tickets are $34-$239, and are available by phone (312-332-2244 x5600) or online at lyricopera.org. (Running time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with no intermission)
Amber Wagner† † (Prima Donna/Ariadne); Anna Christy (Zerbinetta); Alice Coote (composer); Brandon Jovanovich (Tenor/Bacchus); Eike Wilm Schulte (Music Master); Matthew Worth* (Harlequin); Edward Mout, James Kryshak, Rene Barbera
behind the scenes
3Words: Having danced to “The Ring Cycle” as a child, Roger describes show with ‘needs more arias.’