Introducing... Ariadne auf Naxos

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The latest in our Introducing series looks at our revival of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

In this short video dramaturg Cori Ellison explains why Glyndebourne is the perfect place to stage this beguiling opera:

Need to know

Ariadne auf Naxos tells the story of a clash between high and low art. An opera is to be staged at a country house along with a performance by a comedy troupe. At the last moment it’s decided that both groups will perform at once, much to the consternation of the opera’s young composer.

High and low art collide in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Photo: Alastair Muir.

Katharina Thoma’s production debuted in Festival 2013 and sets Strauss’s story in 1940s England, in a country house very much like Glyndebourne.

‘When you’re doing Ariadne in such a special place as Glyndebourne, I think it’s inevitable to refer to that setting, because there is probably no more fitting place for Ariadne auf Naxos than Glyndebourne, a place where a gentleman started to perform operas in his beautiful house, which is exactly the situation in Ariadne.’
—Katharina Thoma, Director

For Katharina the wartime setting helps to exacerbate the sense of catastrophe the Composer feels at the end of Part 1. As we move into Part 2, time has moved on and the impact of the war is felt by all the characters, helping to draw out the serious themes of the opera’s second half. Again, Katharina drew inspiration from history:

‘…during World War 2, many stately homes were pressed into service. Beautiful houses where art and culture had been alive in peacetime changed their function when more basic requirements needed to be fulfilled in wartime.’

This ‘change in function’ has parallels with Glyndebourne’s history. During World War 2 Glyndebourne became home to more than 100 young children who had been evacuated from London. From 1939 to 1946 the house and its surrounding buildings were used as a nursery for children aged two to five.

Evacuees at Glyndebourne during World War 2. Photo: Glyndebourne Archive.

Why this production

In 1950 Ariadne auf Naxos was the first Strauss opera to be produced by Glyndebourne. Since then Ariadne has established itself as a firm favourite and is the most performed Strauss work at Glyndebourne.

If you think you know this production, you may have some surprises in store. Glyndebourne does revivals differently to other opera houses: here they are afforded the same care and attention as a new production, as noted by critic Rupert Christiansen:

‘In the bad old operatic days, “revivals” all too often emerged as pallid carbon copies of the original productions… Not at Glyndebourne, where the aim is always to improve on first thoughts and refine conceptions.’
—Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph

Sebastian F. Schwarz, our General Director, recently met with Katharina to discuss the revival:

‘Katharina is very excited to be revisiting this production in the setting that inspired it. As with all our revivals, Ariadne will go through a six-week rehearsal period during which Katharina will rework her production to complement personalities and talents of the new cast.’
—Sebastian F. Schwarz, General Director

Steven Naylor, Director of Artistic administration adds:

‘The revival rehearsal period affords the director opportunity to explore, deepen, discover and illuminate the opera with a new cast of singers, who themselves will bring a different dynamic and perspective both musically and dramatically. This interconnection will undoubtedly bring exciting results. I see it akin to re-reading a favourite book for the second time or watching a treasured old film again: surprises, a deepening appreciation and new discoveries and delights.’
—Steven Naylor, Director of Artistic Administration

Cast and creative team

Singing the role of Ariadne will be Norwegian rising star Lise Davidsen. Lise recently won Placido Domingo’s prestigious Operalia World Opera Competition and will be making her Glyndebourne debut.

Lise Davidsen makes her Glyndebourne debut in the title role. Photo: Charlotte Gundersen.

A familiar face joining Lise will be Björn Bürger, who delighted Festival 2016 audiences as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia. He has recently worked with director Katherina Thoma on Oper Frankfurt’s production of Flotow’s Martha.

In the October issue of G-News, our monthly e-newsletter, we spoke to Björn about his excitement for returning to Glyndebourne: read a Q&A here.

Björn Bürger as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Festival 2016. Photo: Bill Cooper.

Returning from the 2013 production of Ariadne is international star Thomas Allen, who reprises the role of the Music Master. Thomas has a long history with Glyndebourne – from being a member of the Chorus, he made his solo Glyndebourne debut in 1973 and has made numerous appearances at the Festival since.

Conducting will be Cornelius Meister, who makes his Glyndebourne debut. Born in 1980, Cornelius became Europe’s youngest general musical director in 2005 when he took on the role for the City of Heidelberg. He has recently been appointed Music Director of Stuttgart State Opera.

Look out for

Ariadne auf Naxos features a number of vocally challenging stand-out arias, demanding virtuosic singing from the cast. Here you can enjoy the vocal fireworks of Soile Isokoski as she performs Ariadne’s aria Es gibt ein Reich in the 2013 production:

Enhance your experience

Insider talk
Ariadne auf Naxos – casting and rehearsing an opera, Friday 14 July

Pre-performance talk
Join us for a bite-sized overview of the opera on Saturday 1 July

The Festival 2017 Programme Book will feature an exploration of Ariadne and other operas which bridge the sublime and the ridiculous, melding deep seriousness and low comedy. The Programme Book is published in May 2017.

Ariadne auf Naxos is generously supported by Hamish and Sophie Forsyth