STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos
This Zurich performance of Ariadne auf Naxos was reviewed on this site about a year ago when it was issued on the TDK label (REVIEW). Now, for whatever reason, it appears on ArthausMusik, and in a Blu Ray version. I still have problems with the overall concept of the Claus Guth's direction, but there is no question that the singing is glorious. And the Blu Ray format does offer brilliant color and clarity. This time around I found it a somewhat more engaging experience.
Swedish soprano Elisabeth Soderstrom (1927-2009) was one of the most respected singers of her era, particularly for her performances of Janacek operas, Strauss (Ariadne, Rosenkavalier), Mozart and contemporary works as well including operas by Henze and Argento. Soderstrom was at the peak of her career in this 1979 production of Fidelio by the Glyndebourne Opera. Sir Peter Hall directed with realistic sets and appropriate costumes. Every attempt was made to follow the composer's wishes, and the result is an outstanding performance well worth of preservation. The relatively unknown Dutch tenor Anton de Ridder (1929-2006) who had an impressive European career and sings with authority and control—and he is a fine actor as well. The entire cast is first-rate, and Bernard Haitink on the podium is a decided plus. Video and audio are just fine. This might not have the incredible dynamic quality of the Leonard Bernstein 1978 Vienna State Opera production with Gundula Janowitz as the heroine (REVIEW). but it is a magnificent opera presentation that respected the composer, which cannot be said of the following:
The Met's new production of Rigoletto is a mess. In some ways it is a good show, but it is not Rigoletto. Michael Mayer's production, with sets by Christine Jones and costumes by Susan Hilferty, updates the story to 1960 Las Vegas. The opening scene is colorful to say the least, a casino filled with gamblers and gaudy women, who don't have a still moment, even after the Duke arrives and sings his Questa o quella. The modern sets glitter and often there are striking visual effects. And keeping with Mayer's overall modern concept, in the final act, the wounded Gilda is dumped into a car trunk where she is discovered by Rigoletto. Verdi's masterpiece doesn't need all this nonsense, but that happens often in today's operatic world —unfortunately. Singing is little more than adequate. Even Diana Damrau's Gilda is tentative. Piotr Beczala strains mightily as the Duke; it's unfortunate he doesn't sing as well as he looks. Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic was an excellent Rigoletto in the 2008 Dresden production, which also featured Diana Damrau in spectacular form, and Juan Diego Flórez miscast but impressive as the Duke (REVIEW). Lucic's singing here is forced, uneven and often off-pitch. Fortunately there are recordings of this role sung by Robert Merrill and Leonard Warren, who owned the role at the Met for many years. This new Rigoletto was telecast as one of the Met's Great Performances; it hardly deserves that appellation.
R.E.B. (July 2013)