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Thread: Ariadne auf Naxos at the Cincinnati Opera

          
   
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    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Ariadne auf Naxos at the Cincinnati Opera

    6 July 2019
    Corbett Auditorium, School for the Creative and Performing Arts

    Opera in one act with prologue
    Music by Richard Strauss
    Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal

    Conductor: Jun Märkle
    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

    Director: Omer Ben Seadia
    Set Designer: Ryan Howell
    Costume Designer: Ryan Park
    Lighting Designer: Thomas C. Hase
    Wig and Make-up Designer: James Geier
    Choreographer: Oğulcan Borova
    English Adaptation and Supertitles: Kelley Rourke
    Production Stage Manager: Hannah Holthaus

    Cast:
    Prima Donna/Ariadne: Twyla Robinson
    Tenor/Bacchus: Kyle van Schoonhoven
    Zerbinetta: Liv Redpath
    Composer: Olivia Vote
    Major-domo: Thomas Hammons
    Music Teacher: Morgan Smith
    Dancing Master/Scaramuccio: David Walton
    Harlequin: Luis Alejandro Orozco
    Truffaldino/Footman: James Eder
    Brighella/Officer: Jason Vest
    Naiad: Alexandra Schoeny
    Dryad: Ellen Graham
    Echo: Melissa Harvey
    Wig Maker: Zane Hill

    A new production constructed by the Cincinnati Opera

    During the Cincinnati Opera’s 1924 season, local radio station WLW began carrying live broadcasts of CO performances in what were likely the first live opera transmissions in the United States – and by the 1930s, with the station cranking out 500,000 watts, people across the U.S. would have been able to tune in. Innovation was characteristic of the station’s founder/owner, inventor and entrepreneur Powel Crosley Jr., who also produced the first refrigerator with in-door shelves and the first true compact car, as well as introducing soap operas to radio. (The moniker “soap opera” likely derived from the programs’ sponsorship by Cincinnati’s Proctor and Gamble corporation, makers of – among other things – Ivory soap and laundry detergent.) However much of a trailblazer he was, opera enthusiast Crosley probably never envisioned himself becoming a character in one of his hometown opera company’s productions.

    In Omer Ben Seadia’s staging of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, events have been transplanted to Cincinnati in the late 1950s and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “wealthiest man in Vienna” transformed into Mr. Crosley. In this version, he’s hosting the broadcast of a new opera from his mansion in the suburb of Mount Airy, while also offering his guests some popular entertainment and a fireworks show afterward. In a reflection of ‘50s culture, the “highbrow” opera stars a prima donna who looks more than a little like Maria Callas (but isn’t intended to actually be that diva), while the troupe of popular entertainers is led by a Zerbinetta whose appearance suggests Hollywood bombshell Marilyn Monroe. The Composer, who ends up falling in love with Zerbinetta, resembles the film star’s last husband, playwright Arthur Miller. While designer Ryan Howell’s sets do not replicate the interior of Pinecroft, the Crosley mansion, there are plenty of visual references among the props to Mr. Crosley, who at the time was also the owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Ms. Ben Seadia’s approach did no harm to Strauss’ work – it’s essentially traditional – but I’m not sure Powel Crosley would have been entirely flattered by the role assigned to him. The man was undoubtedly eccentric, but as an opera lover, would probably never have insisted on combining the Composer’s new opus with popular entertainment just to ensure that the fireworks started promptly at 9 p.m. In fact, he likely would have been appalled by the idea. On the other hand, nothing can be taken seriously in an opera where Strauss and Hofmannsthal skewer everyone from egotistical singers to hyper-sensitive composers, pompous servants to the nouveau-riche with more money than taste, and parody opera conventions while they’re at it.

    As part of the “local color,” large portions of this work were sung in English translation rather than German – the entire Prologue and much of the music assigned to Zerbinetta and her troupe in the Ariadne auf Naxos act. As a rule, I don’t like the use of translated text, and I wondered of Zerbinetta’s big showpiece aria, “Grossmächtige Prinzessin,” was going to be delivered auf Englisch. (Happily, it wasn’t.) I can understand, though, that this adaptation made the plot easier to follow for many in the audience. It also allowed for more Cincinnati in-jokes, such as when the Music Teacher angrily snapped, “This would never happen in New York!” You can say (sing) that again, buddy! In any event, there was certainly never a dull moment in Ms. Ben Seadia’s production.

    The musical performance was superb from start to finish. Conductor Jun Märkl led a vibrant account of Strauss’ score by the wonderful Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, but never let the forces in the pit overwhelm his singers. The cast, from those in leading roles down to minor characters, was without exception outstanding. Twyla Robinson was a more lyrical Prima Donna/Ariadne – the part has sometimes been entrusted to a Hochdramatische like Dame Gwyneth Jones – but did full justice to Strauss’ lush melodies. The composer was not known to be a fan of tenors and wrote some fiendishly difficult roles for them, Bacchus being no exception. Kyle van Schoonhoven was more than a match for his character’s punishingly high tessitura, his bright, gleaming lyric-dramatic voice never showing signs of strain or constriction. Speaking of demanding roles, Liv Redpath was a stellar Zerbinetta, whose “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” was one of the evening’s high points and drew sustained applause and cheering from the audience. Her theatrical talents are on a par with her vocal gifts, and she looked quite the ‘50s sex goddess in her blonde wig and showgirl costume. There was another masterful portrayal from Olivia Vote as the Composer, who produced this figure’s hysterical high notes with effortless ease. My only quibble – and it really is nitpicking – is that her beautiful lyric mezzo sounds very feminine, which made it a bit difficult to accept this character as a man (even a young man). The Major-Domo is a spoken role, but baritone Thomas Hammons invested the officious functionary with all the appropriate superciliousness, and even produced the tones of a mid-century radio program host as he introduced the live broadcast of the new opera Ariadne auf Naxos “on WLW, the nation’s station.” Morgan Smith lent a robust baritone to the Music Teacher, while David Walton brought an appealing tenor to his dual roles of the Dancing Master and Scaramuccio. Zerbinetta’s troupe of comedians included bass James Eder (Truffaldin – he also sang a footman), tenor Jason Vest (Brighella – also an officer), and baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco (Harlequin) in addition to Mr. Walton, all of them fine singers with a real flair for show business. The cast was rounded out by a lovely trio of nymphs in sopranos Alexandra Schoeny (Naiad) and Melissa Harvey (Echo) and mezzo Ellen Graham (Dryad) as well as the exasperated Wig Maker of baritone Zane Hill. This was yet another performance that ended with a standing ovation for all concerned. And now I can’t get parts of “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” out of my head!!

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    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    ^^

    Brilliant review Mary and it sounds like a lot of fun. Wish I'd been there!
    "Every theatre is an insane asylum, but an opera theatre is the ward for the incurables."

    FRANZ SCHALK, attributed, Losing the Plot in Opera: Myths and Secrets of the World's Great Operas

  4. Thanks MAuer thanked for this post

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