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Opera in one act with a prologue
Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
World premiere (2nd edition): October 4 1916, Hofoper, Vienna
1st performance of this production October 5 2013
With German and English surtitles. ca 2hrs 45mins, including one interval
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
The richest man in Vienna is holding a soiree, for which he has commissioned a composer to write a new opera. During preparations for the performance of Ariadne auf Naxos the music teacher receives word that comedians have been engaged to jolly up the audience after the opera. He complains to the major-domo: an amusing ballet following on immediately after the opera would be disrespectful to the serious nature of his pupil's new work. This protest is met with indifference by the major-domo and, it must be assumed, his master. When the nervous composer, who is trying to arrange a last minute rehearsal, hears of his patron's plan, he is beside himself. The prima donna, alias Ariadne, is nervous too: if she and the tenor are joined on stage by other people – and funny ones at that – won't they steal the show and wreck the drama? In the meantime coquettish Zerbinetta, the dancing master and her buffo chums Harlekin, Scaramuccio, Truffaldin and Brighella are planning how to make the guests laugh again after the boring opera. The major-domo then surprises the artists with a new order from his master: both works will now be performed, simultaneously, so that the highlight of the evening, a firework display, can begin on time. This is too much for the composer. The music teacher tries to persuade him to stay by reminding him of his handsome fee. In the end the dancing master intervenes: either the composer must force himself to make cuts in his score or his work will not be performed at all. He need not worry about how the comedians will fit in: they are professionals. He forgets his troubles for a bit when he and Zerbinetta enjoy a little flirt. But it's not long before he realises what he has let himself in for. His nightmare begins: Ariadne auf Naxos - a tragicomedy. Naiad, Dryad and Echo tell of Ariadne's sadness until the mourning woman herself sings a monologue about Theseus, forgetting and remembering, love and longing for death. The buffo troupe join in from time to time, trying everything they can think of to cheer Ariadne up, to no avail. The song Harlekin dedicates to her only succeeds in arousing his companions' jealousy instead of catching Ariadne's attention, and even Zerbinetta's words about love and faithfulness, during which she speaks of her solidarity with Ariadne and allows a brief glimpse into her innermost feelings and past disappointments, dies away without any reaction from her. The nymphs announce the arrival of Bacchus: young, handsome, godlike and delighted to have just managed to escape Circe's clutches. Ariadne mistakes him for the God of Death, while he takes her for another sorceress. When Bacchus becomes aware of his divinity and Ariadne of her ability to love again, Zerbinetta's credo proves well-founded: „when a new god approaches, we surrender without a word.“ The composer has timidly been following everything. He doesn't know what to think about this Ariadne auf Naxos. Was what he has just seen a nightmare or a successful premiere? Before he can make up his mind he is dragged from his thoughts by the enthusiastic audience and ensemble.
Director Brigitte Fassbaender gives many of the characters in this »masterful insider comedy, one of the truly great comedies operatic literature has to offer!«, their own biography, intertwining their relationships still further. She and the set and costume designer Johannes Leiacker intensify »Hofmansthal and Strauss' understanding and loving look at people, who come to life on stage«.