Ariadne auf Naxos, Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble

What the general
public doesn’t understand is that this very same question has been
debated for centuries within the realms of opera itself. The question of
high-brow versus low-brow entertainment goes back at least to the creation of
Italian opera buffa, which dates from the Enlightenment. The comic, and
consequently unflattering, portrayal of the aristocracy which has come to
define opera buffa set the genre at odds with opera seria, which attempts to
depict the aristocracy as noble human beings who tragically suffer for the good
of the state. This binary, which epitomizes the adage that tragedy shows us our
betters, while comedy scoffs at the misfortune of others, has defined opera
ever since. However, by integrating operas buffa with opera seria, Richard
Strauss’s opera-within-an-opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, carried the
tradition of opera buffa into the 20th century.

Dell ‘Arte Opera Ensemble’s recent production of this bubbling
comedy should be commended for an all-around stylish performance which captures
the wit and the lyricism of this work. The term “Mozartian” has
been applied to other Strauss comedies like Die Liebe der Danae and
Der Rosenkavalier; however, this assessment sometimes seems
implausible simply because Strauss was working with an orchestra of Wagnerian
force. An orchestra of this size was simply not available to Mozart. This
explains my fear on seeing that the orchestra was considerably smaller than the
normal forces required. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Conductor
Christopher Fecteau struck a noteworthy balance between humor and aesthetics,
bringing a classical precision to the trio of the nymphs in the opera proper
was certainly reminiscent of Der Rosenkavalier.

Mezzo Sarah Heltzel was utterly compelling as the Composer (played by Juli
Borst on August 18 and 20). The blind devotion to music as an art form that she
injected into the character made the themes of the opera, the conflicts between
what a composer wants to write and what his audience wants to see, more
tangible than in Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio where the
question that was debated was whether, when writing an opera, were words or
music were more important. Like soprano Mary Ann Stewart, who played the
prima donna, (who is played by Jane Shivick on August 18 and 20) the
commitment that Heltzel brought to the role served as fodder for the contrast
between their idealized view of art and the more realistic view of opera, as
personified by the commedia dell’arte troupe and soprano
Jennifer Moore, who played Zerbinetta (played by Jennifer Rossetti on August 18
and 20). Stewart sang warmly, yet when called for, she could also sing

Jennifer Moore was delightfully girlish as Zerbinetta. Her portrayal
strengthened the parallels between Strauss and Mozart, as her Zerbinetta could
be a modern-day Zerlina or Despina. It should be said, however, that in the
Prologue, despite her glorious high notes, the body of her voice was slightly
heavier than other Zerbinettas, such as Elisabeth Schwartzkopf’s. That
said, she could be lyrical when called for. More importantly, Act II was her
time to shine. She clearly relished her showpiece; her cadenzas were simply
stunning. At the same time, her singing highlighted the implied mockery of the
proverbial bel canto scena, which coloraturas love to lose
their minds to.

As the Dance Master, Edwin Vega (played by Andrew Klima on August 18 and 20)
obviously had fun, and his light tenor was always a joy to hear. In the second
act, he vocally outshone the other the singers in the commedia
troupe. That said, the troupe worked cohesively as a team
and created immensely comical portrayals of each character throughout. The trio
of the nymphs was in splendid vocal form as well. On the whole, the only rough
spot in the second act was Shawn Thuris’s rendition of Bacchus, which was
a little understated compared to that of his partners on stage. Even so, there
were moments where his singing shone through.

Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble is one of a number of organizations, such as
Wolf Trap Opera Company, that is dedicated to providing young singers with the
tools they need to succeed in the extremely competitive world of opera.
However, this company is still unique insofar as it performs in a Greenwich
Village loft, allowing the audience to be quite literally feet away from the
actors. I even had the honor of shaking hands with Zerbinetta. In this way,
Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble provides an invaluable experience not only for
its singers, but to its audiences as well.

Gregory Moomjy

image_description=Richard Strauss
product_title=Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
product_by=Click here for cast information.
product_id=Above: Richard Strauss