The end of my four-plus years’ stay in London was marked by the remarkable Mikhail Bulgakov, the re-entry into Vienna by Beethoven and Richard Strauss. The Wiener Konzerthaus performed on New Year’s Eve a ravishing Beethoven 9th Symphony, in full blast, with the 100 plus strong choir of the Wiener Musikakademie and a remarkable cast of soloists, both in the orchestra and as singers. Somehow, it seems to me that the 9th Symphony is really an “event” symphony, which needs an occasion like New Year’s Eve or the like to really exhibit its bombast, its grandiosity, its revolutionary soundscape. It definitely got us into the mood for an extended New Year’s celebration.
But even more remarkable was Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos in the Vienna Staatsoper. I had never really liked the opera, this incongruous theater foreplay and then the opera itself – where initial expectations that the commedia dell’arte group will boisterously interrupt Ariadne’s lament and urgent death wish are cruelly disappointed. But this production, excellently conducted by Franz Welser-Moest and directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf was sensational. A quite minimalist staging of the second version of the Strauss-Hoffmansthal opus (the first, longer version had been staged in Salzburg past summer, also directed by Bechtolf) gave full attention to the beautiful music. Sensational singing by substitute Stephanie Houtzeel as Komponist, whose musicality conveyed both the youthful idealism and the budding falling-in-love in subtlest pianissimo and fortes, was only marred by her lack of articulation (thanks to somebody for supertitles provided). Also Krassimira Stoyanova’s Ariadne was very impressive, her love-duet with Bacchus in the end reminded me strongly of Tristan and Isolde. Daniela Fally’s Zerbinetta was unimpressive in the foreplay and the first part of the opera, but came to real life in her intricate coloratura cascades where she was able to show her stupendous technique. She does seem to lack musicality, however, as she sang in a rather thin soprano during the first half. Stephen Gould’s Bacchus lacked the youthful appearance required, but did a marvelous job singing and convincing Ariadne that he was not Hermes to lead her into death, but rather Bacchus who gave her new love, after the ungrateful Theseus had left her behind in the deserted island of Naxos.
This extraordinary performance convinced me that Ariadne is one of Strauss’ masterpieces. It made taste for more.