Monday, February 22, 2010

Ariadne auf Strasbourg

Opéra National du Rhin (ONR) in Strasbourg, February 20, 2010

Director André Engel
Conductor Daniel Klajner

The prima donna/Ariadne Christiane Libor
Zerbinetta Julia Novikova
The Composer Angélique Noldus
The tenor / Bacchus Michael Putsch
Harlequin Thomas Oliemans
Scaramouccio Xin Wang
Truffaldino Andrey Zemskov
Brighella Enrico Casari
Naiad Anaïs Mahikian
Dryad Eve-Maud Hubeaux
Echo Anneke Luyten

Strasbourg is a city in which --I guess-- it is pleasant to live, but it's not really on my Top-10 (20?) list of places to visit in France. There is a wonderful cathedral with the plaza surrounding it and that's pretty much all there is. The city center is full of fancy shops for the folks with heavier income [remember that the  EU Parliament resides in Strasbourg], and the city is in general quite expensive. More interesting is the old town because you could see a superposition of the Germanic architecture and the French charming design. Less fun side is that each time I visited Strasbourg [three times so far] I was crooked in some idiotic way. So here is a word of advice: stay away from the Taxi stands, always double-check your check in any restaurant or a bar, ask in the hotel what is(isn't) included in the price...  France is in general very civilized, but keep your eyes wide open when in Strasbourg!

More importantly (ha!) they have a pretty Opera house, called Opéra National du Rhin (ONR) and right now of all the French opera houses --apart from Paris--  they probably propose the best program overall. 

In this pic you can see the night/day shot of the city cathedral [Notre Dame de Strasbourg], and the pretty building of the Opera House, both outside and inside. It is the Italian style of theater. Its fancy dome looks like a canvas [all the crayon-style drawings are in the brownish nuances set on a beige background].
A detail that you don't see often nowadays is that you hang up your coat before entering the main theater hall (>1000). In my recent memory it was only in Copenhagen that I saw such a practice. I also took a pic of the poster of their next new production which is Platée, a very good opera by Rameau,  very recommendable for the baroque fans [I recently saw it in Paris, but obviously a different production].
Here is the Strasbourg Opera in a daylight.  

Ariadne auf Naxos is dear to my heart. It is so much about theater, about artists, about the interaction between life and the theater. Its dynamics is so much beyond the trivial operatic librettos. Beyond its apparent lightness there is a deep story about life. Maybe more importantly for me,  this was the first opera which made me discover that there was a world beyond Mozart ;)

The Robert Carsen's production that I saw last summer in Munich will remain for me one of the best overall operatic experiences, maybe mostly because of the knockout cast which included Diana Damrau, Adrianne Pieczonka and Daniela Sindram. Ariadne auf Naxos in Strasbourg was well sung but it won't stay with me as a memorable production. Here is why:

André Engel decided to go on with the classical staging, which is OK with me, but I expected him to bring something new: donno, a new view, new idea, new emphasis onto something other directors didn't do. Alas, there was nothing of that sort. He instead took the short/cheap road. For example he decided his comedians should be dressed like the Marx Brothers and the purpose of that is to make you understand right from the beginning that they are comedians/"clowns"; nothing deeper than that;  you don't need to make any mental effort to understand this: they are freaking Marx Bros! A second  example of such a trivialization of characters comes in the second act with his Zerbinetta dressed in Rita Hayworth. WHY? Julia Novikova is a beautiful girl and a good actress capable to bring her  Rita-Hayworth-ness to the surface without this hint. I don't want to sound patronizing but the art of good directing lies in the director's ability to keep his ideas coherent while leaving many aspects of the libretto implicit or open; his wits to let the important point ambiguous will challenge the guys in the audience to interact with the stage action and bring the art-part of the theater to their life. Some will like it, some will not -- but that's how you go beyond the entertaining TV-show-like concepts.

My second problem was Daniel Klajner who was avoiding to dive into the immense beauty of the Strauss' music. I don't know how much of it is his intention to iron the musics; or if it was too heavy for the orchestra?!; the truth is that most of the time he was rushing through the music;  Es Gibt ein Reich (big Ariadne's aria) was so annoyingly fast that you could only appreciate Ariadne's ability to sing it in its TGV-ized form [TGV is for high-speed train]; he only paid more attention to a singer  during the Grossmaechtige Prinzesin (big Zerbinetta's aria).

I should stress the positive side of this Ariadne which is its good singing.

Julia Novikova (Zerbinetta), Daniel Klajner (conductor), Christiane Libor (Ariadne), 
Michael Putsch (Bacchus), and Angélique Noldus (Composer

Julia Novikova was careful in the Prologue and quite obviously saved her voice for her big aria [Grossmaechtige Prinzesin], when she's let her vocal fireworks do the job. I am always impressed when a soprano nails all the top notes in this aria cleanly while at the same time projecting her voice properly. Even though I liked her Gilda in Berlin more than her Zerbinetta here, she's an adorable & pretty woman who can sing wonderfully and who I hope to see more often in the future.

Julia Novikova (Zerbinetta)

There is always one discovery and this time I was very impressed by Angélique Noldus, a mezzo who I've never heard about before. Her strong singing and acting as the Composer was irresistible.  She's maybe not at the level of DiDonato, Sindram or Vondung yet, but she's close. Keep an eye on her!

 Angélique Noldus (Composer)

The Tenor/Bacchus, sung by an American tenor Michael Putsch, was good on that night although he was audibly tired towards the end. I see on his website that he sings Walther von Stolzing and I wonder how he manages to do that.

Michael Putsch and  Angélique Noldus waiting for Ariadne to come

And finally a few words about the amazing Christiane Libor who of course was the best singer out there. She is one of the rare birds in business: she is a wagnerian soprano with an astonishing ease in the high register. Each times she gear-levers to the domain of the top-notes, you're struck by her ease to nail the top notes without thinning the timbre. She is supposed to sing in the Paris Ring next year [in Die Götterdämmerung] ;)

A triumphant Ariadne: Christiane Libor

I liked the sound of the Nymphs too,
All in all, even if the production itself is not a pilgrimage worthy material, there was some good singing and I've spend a pleasant evening. I'll remember it as one of the nights in which Christiane Libor rocked the house :) 

1 comment:

  1. Bravo!! My father-in-law loved Ariadne auf Naxos.
    So be it. Strasbourg is not the only theatre putting on Ariadne. Philippe Jordan's "reprise" at la Bastille was presented at La Génarale yesterday evening and was a resounding success, from what information I have been able to glean. Nonetheless, we shall be seeing it all "in the flesh", as it were,on the 20th, just for further pleasure.
    Harlekin was very good, I was told.