This just arrived this week. Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos with Hilde Zadek, Rita Streich, Sena Jurinac, etc... conducted by Joseph Keilberth with the Westdeutschen Rundfunks Köln Orchestra (WDR) recorded in 1954. The sound for this era is quite stupendous and both the soloists and conductor of great historical and artistic merit.
Best of all... the prices on these Historical WDR recordings are ridiculously inexpensive. I immediately rushed to pick up the following:
While Fidelio has never been my favorite opera, how could I possibly lose at $5 US for a recordings with Birgit Nilssen, Hans Hopf, and Gottlob Frick in his greatest role?! This performance was conducted by Erich Kleiber just weeks before his death.
Niccolai Gedda and Hermann Prey with Keilberth performing Gluck! I already have this opera in a more contemporary period recording... but still, I couldn't pass this one up.
Von Weber's masterpiece performed by Elizabeth Grümmer, Rita Streich, etc... with Erich Kleiber again. Again for only $10 US!!
Strauss' masterpiece with Astrid Varnay, Leonie Rysanek, Hans Hotter and Richard Kraus?
I have gotten to the point where my recordings of Strauss operas outnumber those by any other composer... Wagner included!!! I must rectify this immediately. Perhaps another Ring cycle?
In the end, I even jumped on this disc from the same WDR historic recordings series.
Returning to Ariadne auf Naxos, this work is a marvelous slapstick comedy... an opera about opera and the theater... with the libretto by the brilliant librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The opera was first performed (in its original form) in 1912, a few short years after the Expressionistic tragedies, Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909). In the original form, the audience was presented only with a brief hybrid: an opera that combined a serious classical story with a comedy performed by a commedia dell'arte group. Not only was the result confusing, but impractical, at barely 30-minutes the work still demanded both an orchestra and opera singers as well as a troupe of comic actors. in 1916 Strauss expanded the work with a prologue that essentially "explains" the bizarre serious/comic opera: "Ariadne auf Naxos", a tragic opera, the first work of a young composer is to be performed at the home of the wealthiest man in Vienna. The music master in informed that a comic play and a fireworks display will immediately follow the performance of the opera. The music masters protests, but informs that he who pays has the ultimate say. The composer is fascinated with the beautiful, young Zerbinetta, leader of the comic troupe of actors, but is outraged when he learns that a comic play will follow his opera. While he is raging, the steward of the wealthy man again arrives and announces that for the sake of expediency, both the tragic opera and the comic play are to be staged at the same time. The composer is aghast, but Zerbinetta is able to seductively talk him into seeing it from another perspective. The opera takes the tale of "Ariadne and Theseus" in which the daughter of the King of Minos aids Theseus (the Athenian enemy of Minos) with whom she has fallen in love, in killing the Minotaur. She then elopes with Theseus who abandons her on the island of Naxos where in despair, she commits suicide. This tragedy is mutated into a farce when Zerbinetta and her four companions from the burlesque group enter and attempt to cheer Ariadne by singing and dancing. In a sustained and dazzling piece of coloratura singing, "Großmächtige Prinzessin" / "high and mighty princess" (the most well-known aria of the opera) Zerbinetta insists that the simplest way to get over a broken heart is to find another man. In a comic interlude, each of the clowns pursues Zerbinetta.
Ariadne auf Naxos proves a striking contrast to Strauss' other operas. As opposed to his usual penchant for lush, rich, and grandiose orchestration, Ariadne auf Naxos is performed by a stripped-down, chamber orchestra of some 35 instruments and piano. It and clearly illustrates the fact that Strauss had the ability to write striking passages of chamber music... and yet at the same time never abandon his signature sensuality.[/QUOTE]