The Treasure Hunt: RICHARD STRAUSS ARIADNE AUF NAXOS
©1983 Mark B. Anstendig
While the prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos is a straightforward musical treatment of a dramatic situation that is easily understood by the interpreter, part II, the "Opera" section, is usually misinterpreted. The interpreter is led astray by the fact that it is a mixture of the serious and comic, "Opera Seria" and "Opera Buffa" styles. The comic is usually hammed up as a parody and the serious done straight. But it should be the other way around. The "Buffa" figures are directly out of commedia dell'arte and should be played with exquisite deliciousness. It is the serious part that is the spoof, a parody of typical faults of the operas of Strauss' time: the boring, static action; the long time it takes for the composer and performers to warm to the task and for the action to "get off the ground".
Both characters,. Ariadne and Bacchus, are parodies of operatic heros and heroines, displaying the typical musical and dramatic faults of characters in second-rate operas, as well as serving as vehicles of a good measure of delicious literary spoofs. In the story, the "Opera Seria" is the first work of a young composer completely preoccupied with his own seriousness who is intrigued with the overblown philosophical-psychological ideas of the times but has only a superficial understanding of them. Strauss writes the ""Opera Seria"" part of the second act as such a student would have written it.
The "Prologue" deals with the beginning of his disillusionment as his ideals smash up against the real world. The "Opera aeria" parodies various operatic styles, particularly those of Wagner and Strauss himself, but the genius of it is that the music is written in the way a young, inexperienced composer would have imitated those styles. As psychological ideas were the talk of the time, Ariadne, in her first aria, prattles psychological and other platitudes that were the rage of the day, while her second aria parodies the heroic Wagner-style operas of the day. Bacchus, the typical overblown, godlike opera hero is also dumb and conceited, and the two together have some delicious puns. The ending is a great spoof of the apotheosis-type, hero-and-heroine-entering¬heaven ending. But, since the composer is supposed to be talented and most composers save their best for the end, Strauss' ending is "for real". Bacchus ends up having to sing what should be the biggest, loudest, longest, most glorious, most difficult series of phrases ever written for tenor (the young composer's all-out effort to top everything else), and there's the rub in finding a recording: by far, the best recording is that of Karl Boehm with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophone, but one has to look elsewhere to hear how glorius the ending really can be.
Karl Boehm seems to be the only conductor on records who understands the jokes in Ariadne, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony, possibly the most sophisticated orchestra in the world, delivers the most exquisitely subtle, tongue-in-cheek expressive playing I have ever heard. The introduction to the second act is a case in point, with just the right touch of irony and boredom that no other performance captures. The "Prologue" might be dramatically straightforward, but it demands a particularly sophisticated dramatic style of acting found only in the finest German theater. The Major-domo delivers his lines with a perfection of elegant snottiness one has to hear to believe. The "Opera Buffa" has to be deliciously precious. Everyone in this recording is superb until the very last notes. The Bacchus begins his ending marvelously but becomes a bit careful just before the end. To really hear what a tenor who is afraid of nothing can make the ending sound like, one has to find the pirate recording of a live performance celebrating Strauss' 80th birthday, June 11, 1944, conducted by Boehm with Max Lorenz. The sound can be cleaned up with equalizers and Lorenz's voice pours forth so overwhelmingly that it is worth the effort.
The Deutsche Grammophone recording has been in and out of print in an import pressing. The sound should be equalized if one wants to hear the subtleties. The equalization is typical of most recordings, which means start by cutting at 2500 to 4000 Hz until the edginess in the voices is eliminated. Then try cuts around 640 to 800 Hz and 125-160 Hz to eliminate thickness in the sound. Some touchup will be necessary around 5000 to 8000 Hz to eliminate aspirants and in the frequencies just below the above-mentioned cuts if one wants to achieve a perfect balance.
Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos
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