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Ariadne Auf Naxos
An opera in one act
First performed at Stuttgart, October 25, 1912. After revision, the original version contained a theatrical play by Moliere which is shrunk down to the a quick synopsis in the prologue, had its premiere in Vienna, October 4, 1916.
House of a Viennese nouveau riche.
Musicians, singers, actors, carpenters, and stage hands are preparing for the first performance of a serious opera which has been specially commissioned by the owner of the house to entertain his guests.
There is consternation when the Major-domo announces that, after the opera, there will be a Harlequinade entertainment; moreover the two shows must not overrun their allotted span of time,as the fireworks will begin precisely at nine o clock! Worse is to come, as a little later the Major-domo returns to inform the two troupes that his master has changed his mind: now both entertainments will be played simultaneously, the serious opera being punctuated by intervals of dancing from the comedians.
The composer of the serious opera extemporizes an aria which he intends for the tenor and languishes at the idea of his masterpiece being combined with a common dancing show. He tries to explain to Zerbinetta that Ariadne prefers death to the embraces of any man other that her beloved, and proving unsuccessful in this, he indulges in a duet with Zerbinetta in which he comes perilously close to declaring that he loves her. There is some trouble with both tenor and prima donna, after which the composer declares his conviction in the power of music, the most sacred of the arts.
After an interval, the curtain rises on the opera itself, watched from boxes by the owner of the house and his guests. The setting, which is seen only from its reversed side in the Prologue, is now seen from the front. At one side is a cave in whose entrance Ariadne can be seen asleep, watched by Naiad, Dryad and Echo. These creatures express a certain sympathy with Ariadne's sorrow, to which, however, they have become accustomed with the passage of time.
Ariadne speaks as if in a dream. She takes no notice when the Harlequinade quartet and Zerbinetta comment on her distress and try to think of a means to comfort her. Ariadne welcomes the idea of death. Not even a determined effort by Harlequin to cure her of her madness - for he thinks it must surely be that which is wrong with her - can stop her for long. Ariadne continues and, at mention of death's messenger, Hermes, she becomes more urgent.
The four comedians make another attempt to cheer up the melancholy Ariadne, but their dancing and singing have not the slightest effect, even when they are joined by the sprightly Zerbinetta. Eventually, Zerbinetta bids them leave her to see what she can do on her own.
Zerbinetta appeals to Ariadne, woman to woman. Ariadne is not the first to be abandoned by her lover, and will not be the last. Zerbinetta expounds her own fickle philosophy, and is quite unconcerned when Ariadne disappears inside her cave. Zerbinetta goes into details of her amorous career: she is pursued by the four comedians, each of whom seems amorously inclined. Zerbinetta encourages and eludes them all, until only Scaramuccio, Brighella, and Truffaldino are left. Much to their annoyance, Zerbinetta is immediately heard conversing tenderly with the Harlequin, whom they had thought safely out of the way. They rush to see what they can do about it.
No sooner are they gone than the three attendant nymphs return to the stage, full of the sight they have just seen. A youthful god is coming, Bacchus, fresh from the embraces of Circe, but eager for a new adventure. They call to Ariadne, who emerges from the cave in time to hear Bacchus calling for Circe. The nymphs beg him to continue singing, and Ariadne hails him as the longed for messenger of death. In the arms of Bacchus, Ariadne finds consolation and Zerbinetta pops in to comment that all has turned out exactly as she would have expected.
Richard Strauss (Bio)
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