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Saturday, December 05, 2015

By Strauss

Metroland in Memoriam Dept.: I’m raiding the more obscure corners of my contributions to the now-stilled Metroland Magazine, but it looks pretty much like what I’ve been posting here all along. Here’s some opera.


Soprano Brenda Harris
IT’S NOT FREQUENTLY laugh-out-loud funny, but that’s not Richard Strauss’s style. Still, it’s an extremely funny and moving work, performed with appropriate gusto as the opener of the Lake George Opera’s summer season at SPAC. “Ariadne auf Naxos” was intended as a half-hour divertissement to be performed within a production of Molière’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme that had been translated by Strauss’s librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Then it grew, losing the play but gaining a prologue that sets up in a few strokes much of what the play intended: A nouveau-riche nobleman has planned an evening’s entertainment that will include an original opera, improvised commedia dell’arte sketches and fireworks. So that the fireworks may begin precisely at 9, the nobleman has decreed that the opera and the comedians should perform simultaneously.

This throws the assemblage into chaos: how dare one type of entertainment sully the other! The prologue gives us a young, idealistic composer (a pants role sung by mezzo Mary Ann McCormick) who agonizes over the cuts that are required – even while succumbing to the charm of comedienne Zerbinetta (soprano Robin Blitch Wiper), whose hedonistic way of life is drenched in sensuality. Amidst a flurry of hasty assignations deftly staged in the background, the Composer and Zerbinetta end up face-to-face on opposite sides of a ladder, a nice piece of business from stage director Marc Verzatt, who also took on the speaking role of the Major-Domo, which he performed with an Olivier-like flourish.

During the backstage chaos of the busy prologue we see carpenters and painters and a footman and others trying hop out of each other’s way. It was nicely staged, but it threatened to erupt into an all-out mugging competition. The actors would do well to watch less of Mike Myers and more Buster Keaton.

The opera proper is presented after intermission, and it’s a soul-stirring study of the suffering Ariadne (soprano Brenda Harris) resisting the consolation of three nymphs (sopranos Julie Ness and Inn Dukach and mezzo Lynnette Borman). Harris was hands-down splendid throughout, carrying herself with dignity throughout the intrusions of the comedy troupe, and holding her own against Zerbinetta’s show-stopping aria. The nymphs settled into a very nice sound, although the blend at first was a little rough.

Ariadne’s solitude is broken by the commedia dell’arte artists, with excellent work from the four clowns – tenors Joel Sorensen and Daniel Blake, baritone Erich Parce and bass-baritone Donald Sherrill – who added deft vaudeville bits to their otherwise somewhat thankless roles. And then Bacchus arrives, tenor Adam Klein, all the more heroic in that he had to surmount a goofy wisp of a Flintstones outfit. He added a wonderful voice in the duets with Harris that finish the opera.

Daniel Beckwith conducted an orchestra that played the difficult score wonderfully. Placed upstage behind the scenery, they nevertheless blended well with the singers for a sound that worked well within the Spa Little Theatre.

The Lake George Opera’s current season closes with performances of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” at 7:30 PM Friday and Saturday and 2 PM Sunday.

Ariadne auf Naxos
Lake George Opera Festival
Spa Little Theatre, July 11

– Metroland Magazine, 19 July 2001

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