13 June 2012 | TheLittleSongbird
The best Ariadne?
I say yes. I do recommend the Janowitz, Norman and Voight performances of one of Strauss' finest operas very highly as well, but this one from 1965 is an absolute classic. The sound in some places could've been sharper, which is often the case with mono, but more than acceptable at least. But above all, I see an opera film/production for the staging, production values, music and the quality of musical values and performances. This Ariadne Auf Naxos succeeds in every single one of those categories.
The sets and backdrops do look absolutely beautiful. I especially want to single out the starry backdrop in the final scene which fitted the increasingly soaring music perfectly and gave that scene such a magical effect. The costumes and sets as well as realistic are sumptuous in both the Prologue and Opera sections. The black and white, I will watch any production of any opera regardless of whether if it is in black and white or colour, still looks crisp also.
Musically, this Ariadne is flawless as far as I'm concerned. The orchestra, or shall I say chamber orchestra, play Strauss' soaring melodies with ravishing sound and controlled legato. And then there's Karl Bohm, even in his late prime I still consider him the definitive Strauss conductor. Even here and in the 1975, 1978 and 1981 productions of Salome, Ariadne and Elektra, Bohm's expertise, having apparently worked with Strauss, really shines through.
As I was anticipating, the performances are just of a high standard as you would hope. Hildegard Hillebrecht does a really good job as Ariadne/Prima Donna, replacing an indisposed Christa Ludwig, singing with a vibrant creaminess(though I slightly prefer Janowitz's silvery tone and Norman's richness). Her acting is appropriately dignified for Ariadne and, while lacking Schwarzkopf's characterful swooping under Karajan, provides a good contrast dramatically as the Prima Donna.
Jess Thomas is an excellent Bacchus, making a rather thankless role(I wonder if Strauss actually liked tenors, seeing as his least thankless tenor role is possibly Herod from Salome and he is not even the most interesting character of that opera) more heroic than it actually is, helped with his movie-star looks. He sings strongly and without much strain, and also does a good job as the Tenor in the Prologue.
Reri Grist as Zerbinetta provided the single most thrilling moment of the performance in the killer colouratura aria Grossmächtige Prinzessin' to 'Stumm ... Stumm'. The aria is vocal fireworks personified, and as well as a charming, coquettish presence Grist sings with plenty of agility and silvery vibrancy. Gerd Feldhoff, David Thaw, Georg Stern and Gerhard Unger(one of the finest Meistersinger Davids I know of) make a fine group of comedians.
Sena Jurinac, my absolute favourite Octavian with Ludwig and Fassbaender not far off, is a beautifully sung and very moving Composer, singing with firmness and musicality and acting with ardour. Lotte Schadle, Claudio Hellmann and Lisa Otto form the chorus on the island of Naxos and sing their trio with some of the loveliest pianissimo singing of any ensemble singing Strauss' music.
Paul Schoffler is an excellent Music Master and John Van Kasteren plays the dancing master with his usual character and sly vocal acting. In the non-speaking role of the Major-Domo, Erik Frey also excels. The character's haughtiness is wonderfully icy when Frey plays him, and the comic timing likewise droll.
In conclusion, truly fantastic, goes down as one of my favourite filmed performances of any of Strauss' operas. 10/10 Bethany Cox