12 April 2013

The Haushofmeister’s Diary, Part 4

Opera is collaboration! The Nymphs (Corrie Donovan, Jeni Houser, and Amanda Robie), Corey Bix as the Tenor, Cecelia Hall as the Composer, and Marjorie Owens as the Prima Donna.

How does one get to Bass Hall? Well, if one doesn’t do what I did yesterday, and walk the length of the Trinity Trails, the long ribbon of riverfront parkland that cuts through Fort Worth, then the answer is simply this: practice, practice, practice.

And so we are practicing. Since my role in the Fort Worth Opera Festival production of Ariadne auf Naxos is relatively brief, and confined to the Prologue to the opera, I get to sit back and watch the rest of the cast in rehearsal. The other morning, I had the presence of mind to snap a few pictures.

You will note that the cast is mostly young and exceedingly good-looking. This is a happy accident, because the main interest is that they’re good-sounding. As I listen to them, I’m reminded particularly of how justly deserved Richard Strauss’ reputation is, especially in his collaborations with the librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal: these guys really, really loved women.

The delectable Marjorie Owens awaits her cue.

Again and again, Strauss and Hofmannsthal came up with roles that are technically demanding but emotionally gratifying, full of psychological insight and glorious music. They may have reached their peak with Der Rosenkavalier, but Ariadne isn’t very far behind.

Not only do we get a Prima Donna — the only name given to the character of the soprano who sings Ariadne — but we get a second prima donna, as it were, in the character of Zerbinetta.

The dazzling Audrey Luna as Zerbinetta.
I know the picture is out of focus — she was moving!! — but it really captures the exuberance she brings to the role.

Strauss is pretty sly in opening debates with his operas — and then settling them. In Capriccio, for example, after much discussion of words and music, and which has primacy, Hofmannsthal’s libretto declares that the two are equal. Strauss sets this text beautifully — and then gets the last word (as it were) with music alone.

Likewise, there’s tension from the start of Ariadne between comedy and drama, represented by Zerbinetta and the Prima Donna, respectively. Zerbinetta gets some fabulous material, including the astonishing aria “Großmächtige Prinzessin,” in which she tries to talk sense to Ariadne. But it’s Ariadne who gets her man, as well as the ecstatic duet with Bacchus that concludes the opera. Even the irrepressible comedian Zerbinetta has to remain “stumm, stumm, stumm.”

Opera brings people together!
The budding relationship between Zerbinetta and the Composer is one of the highlights of this opera —
beautifully played by Luna and Hall.

The character of the Composer is sung by a woman, much like Octavian in Rosenkavalier. Both pay homage to Mozart, with Octavian being a somewhat older and wiser variation on Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. But the Composer is in many ways a portrait of the young Mozart himself: striving to create art that is greater already than almost anybody has the capacity to understand or appreciate, he’s also at the mercy of his wealthy patron. And Hofmannsthal chose the worst patron imaginable, none other than Molière’s Bourgeois Gentleman, who remains unseen in this opera yet very much present.

The character of the Tenor, who sings Bacchus, has somewhat less to do during the Prologue, though he does deliver one line that gives my character a lot to play off of. (It’s the rare moment when the Haushofmeister pays any attention to the crazy artistes who’ve overrun the household.) When he emerges as Bacchus, though, look out. He sings — oh, baby, does he sing. Corey Bix is absolutely sensational in this music.

Corey Bix and Marjorie Owens solve it all for you.
With Amanda Robie in the background.

But even Bacchus’ role doesn’t quite tip the scale, and the balance remains securely in favor of the women, especially once you factor in the three Nymphs, who observe and comment on Ariadne’s plight so ravishingly.

Now, I’m a passionate devotee of the female voice, and lest we forget, it was a soprano (herself an acclaimed Zerbinetta) who kindled my interest in opera in the first place, right here in North Texas, 38 years ago. And so, when I listen to Ariadne, I sense a kindred spirit in Richard Strauss. What an incredible gift this score is to sopranos and mezzos! What a thrill it must have been when he first heard this score! Heck, I didn’t write thing, and yet I feel that thrill — or something like it — and I’m sure he’d be delighted by the women on our stage in this production.

The Composer feels very, very strongly about this score.
So do I.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Another fab post, thank you!

o my lord if you are allowed to take photos, please continue to do so. How often does one wish others did that back in the day? You'll be creating a treasure trove.

You are witness a mircle, best take some snaps

Any chance of this performance being recorded? I would hope
that would happen as a matter of course with such a production ...I know, silly me