STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos one
This site has mentioned several outstanding videos of Ariadne auf Naxos, one with Gundula Janowitz/Edita Gruberova and Karl Böhn conducting (REVIEW), another with Clare Watson/Beverly Sills with Erich Leinsdorf on the podium (REVIEW), and Deborah Voight/Natalie Dessay from the Met with James Levine conducting (REVIEW). There also is another Met performance, conducted by Levine, with Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle. All are superior to this unfortunate performance recorded in December 2006 in Zürich's Opera House. The other performances respect the composer and his music, the new one does not. Director Claus Guth and designer Christian Schmidt say they are exploring the "essense" of the opera, and their way of achieving that goal is to have a stark set for the Prologue, a restaurant. for the remainder. It is difficult for singers to establish an appropriate mood when they are in an imappropriate setting. Costumes are contemporary, and the regal Ariadne in this presentation is a drugged alcholic. The singing is outstanding. Emily Magee is a match for other sopranos in the title role, Elena Mosuc (dressed in colorful garb) tosses off Zerbinetta's stratospheric notes with the great of ease, and Roberto Saccá is a near-ideal Bacchus—how I wish he had been singing The Emperor in the recent DVD of Die Frau ohne Schattern (REVIEW). Christoph von Dohnányi is a master of Strauss; I'm surprised he went along with this ill-advised concept of the opera. . Superb video and audio, but I cannot imagine anyone would want to experience this depressing visual account of Strauss's masterpiece. This is a performance worth listening to but not watching, which also can be said of the Bavarian production of Lohengrin (REVIEW).
This Otello is not new. No performance date is provided, but the copyright is 2001. The production is by François Duplat, directed by Jürgen Flimm, with costumes by Doey Lüth. They have updated the opera, we see modern suits and dresses, along with many sailors. In the opening scene, it is as if the viewers are on the arriving ship rather than the shore watching it, and Otello makes his famous entramce from the audience. Many unconvincing, rather odd things happen: As Iago is singing his vengeance aria, two mostly nude young women walk behind him, Otello kills Desdemona with a flimsy scarf (seen on the DVD cover), and during the final act there is fire across the entire back of the stage. After Otello kills Desdemona, he seems to be cutting his eyes with his sword. None of this is as offensive as often has happened during the past decade in other opera productions, when many directors/producers have been given free reign to insult audiences with their outrageous concepts. Ths performance of Otello has some good points, particularly American soprano Emily Magee early in her career. She is a touching Desdemona in every way, and Valeri Alexejev's Iago is as powerful as it should be. However, tenor Christian Franz, also early in his career, was not ready for this demanding role; it would be intriguing to hear him now that he is considered a leading Wagnerian tenor of our time. He was featured as Siegfried in 2009 in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung when the Met gave their final performances of Otto Schenk's fine production of The Ring (which many would love to see again!). Franz's career has grown enormnously;and currently he is singing Siegfried, Rienziu and Tristan, as well as Herod. Daniel Barenboim offers a rather tame oopening scene. Video is adequate, audio rather undefined orchestrally, and surely not true 5.l surround. I imagine most viewers would prefer an Otello as Verdi envisioned it, notably DVDs featuring Plácido Domingo and Jon Vickers, or the remarkable Mario Del Monaco historic video, all reviewed on this site.
Arthaus Musik offers an important historic document: a performance of Otello from Berlin in 1962 featuring Renata Tebaldi as Desdemona. The famous diva was at the height of her career, and a great favorite in Berlin although she only appeared there twice, once in recital, the second time in this Otello. Enthusiuasm reigned as Tebaldi was announced to appear on the occasion of opening of the new opera house. However, time was limited and a production was tossed together (very successfully!) from props and furniture available from other productions. The cast is superb, particularly Austrian heldentenor Hans Beire, a favorite in Berlin, a powerful Otello in every way. Tebaldi is glamorous and beautiful, received with ovations from the adoring audience that overlooked her occasional slightly off-pitch singing. Video is rather primitive but adequate, mono sound excellent. The legion of Tebaldi funs will delight in this memento at this stage of her career.
R.E.B. (August 2012)