Ariadne opens at Meydenbauer in Bellevue

By R.M. Campbell

Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” is a opera with many, sometimes opposing, characteristics. It is deft and sophisticated, a piece intended for refined tastes. High art is forced to mingle with low art, each looking unfavorably upon the other.

With the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program spring production, which opened Thursday night at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, the opera seems even more madcap than usual with the forces of the low made particularly engaging. Indeed, they appear to win the day in this fictitious battle.

The pit at Meydenbauer is small but served the purposes of this first-class training ground for young artists well enough in the past. However, for Strauss, it proved to be inadequate unless one dropped the keyboard instruments, including a piano, and two harps, as well as any number of strings, something both conductor Brian Garman, music director of the program, and stage director Peter Kazaras, artistic director of the program, were loathe to do. So, they brought the orchestra up onto the stage. Not center stage but off in the precincts of stage right. Set designer Donald Eastman had to work around that , not an easy assignment. He wrapped a grand flight of stairs on stage left, leading to a mezzanine He also devised an entry to the pit from the stage upon which more intimate scenes could be played, an area unavailable if an orchestra had been in residence. This two and one-half level playing space itself became dramatic, its spareness a virtue.

Strauss was generous in giving effective musical opportunities to Ariadne and Bacchus. They are provided some magnificent music to sing, as befits their godlike status. The Composer, likewise, has effective music to sing. Nevertheless, Zerbinetta and her band of merry hipsters take the day with their antics, poking fun at the seriousness of everyone else. They are so convincing that we begin to see the world from their perspective. Ariadne and Bacchus are wonderfully noble but a little pretentious. Bacchus becomes pompous and Ariadne, obsessive.

Kazaras keeps everyone moving, on and off the stage, with fast steps and even somersaults. Each makes his or her point then moves on. Kazaras has become a superb stage director with plenty of ideas and inventions. One has come to expect them and rarely are we disappointed. He has keen intelligence and dramatic and comedic flair. Fortunately he has a group of young singers who are able to move quickly and decisively. Ariadne and Bacchus less so but that adds to their sense of importance. They are what Zerbinetta thinks they are. This clash of opposites is what Strauss prescribes. “Ariadne” can seem a little heavy, but not this time. It has the lightness of air.

Just as Kazaras was dextrous in his sensibilities, so was Garman. The orchestra, even though it was substantially reduced in numbers, was not reduced in its impact. And, in part because it was on stage, the ensemble had genuine presence. It is a capable group of musicians, who play together regularly as members of the Auburn Symphony.

Some of the singers were more persuasive theatrically than vocally. Vira Slywotzky played the Composer in an appealing way, earnest and youthful. Her soprano’s steeliness might be put to better uses but it worked because Slywotzky made it so. Gregory Carroll’s Bacchus was a singer with presence, in part because of his physical size but also because of his big voice, which usually stayed in the forte range. Megan Hart had plenty of bounce for Zerbinetta, and certainly all the high notes, but the voice is not a lyrical instrument. Marcy Stonikas has plenty of cream to give to Ariadne and long, lovely phrases. Stephanos Tsirakoglou and Michael Devlin, as the Music Teacher and Major-Domo, were very amusing. So too the Naiad, Dryad and Echo of Joanna Foote, Jenni Bank and Jennifer Edwards. The trio of young men — Harlequin Truffaldino and Scaramuccio — who accompany Zerbinetta everywhere and find much to mock in Bacchus and Ariadne were played with the supple energy by Michael Krzankowski, Erik Anstine and Bray Wilkins.

The production runs through April 11.

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8 thoughts on “Ariadne opens at Meydenbauer in Bellevue

  1. Yes, and no. There is certainly more local, operatic activity in Bellevue than there used to be. However, this particular production was brought over by Seattle Opera. It’s not as home grown as other productions/performances.

  2. Zach,
    I believe opera is all about Music and Singing. If one wants drama then ” the play’s the thing”. There’s also broadway musicals. What is the venue for classically trained singers? It used to be opera!

  3. I went to “Ariadne” last night. The clear highlight of the evening came (as it should) during the Ariadne-Bacchus duet. Interestingly enough you had two very large bodies on a bare stage, ridiculously costumed, standing like statues singing straight to the audience , and that was the highlight of the evening. I suppose it could have been better if Peter had given them some “business” to do, but I guess he was out of “cute ideas” by then.
    Could it be that the drama comes from the music and not the staging and sets?

  4. The music in an opera has a dramatic component. And, in most cases, it should be enough. But, if acting ability, staging, costumes, and all of the other assorted things we come to associate with modern opera aren’t important then why make the effort? Why then did folks flip out in NYC over Luc Bondy’s deviation from the directions in Tosca? If these other components don’t matter, or aren’t as important artistically, then maybe we should ditch the opera house all together and just do concert performances of operas. I think most opera aficionados would agree — even if a concert performance allows for a more controlled environment to ensure musical purity — that it would be an opera experience lacking in those elements which add innumerably to the opera.

  5. Zack,
    Obviously I believe operas should be staged. They were written to be staged. I love beautiful stets and great costumes. I also believe that the overture shouldn’t be staged and that the curtain should come up at the beginning of a performance. What I am against is staging that is only a vehicle for the director to show how clever he or she is, or how they can make the opera better. I think it exposes a lack of either appreciation or respect for the work on the part of the director.

    The direction of opera today is a complex issue and one that is not well served by back and forths in a blog. It would be great if a live discussion or symposium could be arrange so that those of us who feel strongly about this art-form could exchange ideas. It may not change too many minds(who knows) but I think it would be helpful. It certainly would be interesting.

    My thoughts are very close to those expressed by Franco Zeffirelli, quoted here from an article in the New York Times.

    “Mr. Zeffirelli, reached by telephone in Rome, said he is not so troubled by the turnover of his productions, or by efforts to try new ideas. He also recognizes the economic constraints on opera houses these days. What bothers him, he said, is the lack of faithfulness to the composer’s intent.

    “I belong to a generation where being faithful to the authors was the automatic rule,” he said. “Now you have to be unfaithful to be interesting.” He said that based on advance word, he had no use for Mr. Bondy’s “Tosca” nor any desire to see it.

    A thought in closing. If Carlo Bergonzi could sing as he did in his prime, would you want to see him perform even though his acting skills were minimal.

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