Pacific Opera Project's "Ariadne aux Naxos" Review - A Convoluted Opera with Some Great Performances

Pacific Opera Project’s  (P.O.P.) latest offering is Ariadne auf Naxos with music by Richard Strauss, and English lyrics by Stephen Karr.  Karr also conducted the performances, and they were directed by Josh ShawAriadne of Naxos is a lofty Greek mythological story greatly revered in Germany

Tracy Cox as Ariadne

Perhaps the greatest triumph of this production is in the casting of Tracy Cox in the title role.  Her soprano voice is so rich and golden that it matters not what she is singing or doing. One could be enthralled by her glorious tones.  She is a soprano and yet every note is deep and grounded. Her talents have been duly noted in the opera world where she has performed at the LA Opera under the direction of Placido Domingo, and she has won many prestigious awards both locally and internationally within the past two years.

Zerbinetta sings an aria

In contrast to Cox’s grounded voice, the role of Zerbinetta, as performed by Sara Duchovnay, the lead comic soprano, is light and airy in her high coloratura notes. Duchovnay performs delightfully in her fluid dance movements as well as her high notes. She has entertained us before at POP as the charming and funny Susanna in Le Nozze de Figaro.

Composer

 

Other sopranos in the show were also enchanting, including the mellifluous voice of Claire Shackleton in the first act. In fact, because I was sitting in the back and didn't see many supertitles, her lilting voice was the most enjoyable thing about that act.  More about that later…

Maria Elena Altany, Kelci Hahn, and Sarah Beaty as the sea nymphs

The soprano sirens, Naiad, Echo and Dryad, were sung beautifully and in fantastic harmony by Maria Elena Altany, Kelei Hahn and Sarah Beaty, who were also endearing in their comedic movements.

Ariadne and Bacchus

 

Tenor Brendan Sliger, who specializes in German roles worldwide, as Bacchus found his fullness and peaked at the end of the second act, reaching the heights of loftiness with Cox as befits a god and goddess.

Zerbinetta and her "Band of Merry Men"

Act Two, although sung mostly in German with very few and general supertitles, was yet pretty understandable to a general audience.  However, the lack of titles for the English lyrics made the audience miss any gems of humor that are the hallmark of POP opera’s usual updated and funny lyrics.  The choreography of Heather Lipson Bell helped clarify the story as well.

Composer and Ariadne the actor

The story of the opera within an opera which is Act Two is like a competition between “highbrow” serious opera – German, no less- and lowbrow early-1900s vaudeville comedy, as they are strangely interspersed with each other.  Ariadne auf Naxos, from the time it was first introduced in Vienna in 1912, has had lots of tweaks and a serious makeover here. I felt the basic concept is somewhat amusing, and the second act flows. 

Sara Duchovnay as Zerbinetta

The first act is a different story.  It almost seems as though it’s a long-winded explanation and apology for what is to follow in the second act. Even the very abbreviated program devotes a full page of rambling explanation to help the audience understand what is going on.

Zerbinetta (R) and the nymphs

The fun is that this production is rewritten to take place right at the very Ebell Club where this show takes place, back in 1913. Other than change of location, it seems to be fairly faithful to the original setup, which is very convoluted way of justifying combining a serious opera with vaudeville.  It surely would have been more amusing had we been able to discern the dialogue.  Although it is sung in English, between the operatic flourishes and the simply ridiculous plot twists, it was very hard to follow. 

Male and female choruses

As an avid lover of comedy as well as opera, I was disappointed to not be able to find much humor in this show as I have come to expect from POP. It may have been in the dialogue, but I don’t think it came across to many of us. We were left to rely solely on the beauty of the voices and the orchestra for our entertainment. 

I believe this is a difficult piece to pull off, and I give POP credit for trying. But I for one cannot wait to see their next offering of a Puccini piece. 

Pacific Opera Project

Next show: Falstaff: Sept. 12-20

[email protected]

323 739 8122

Photos by MARTHA BENEDICT

Georja Umano is and actress and animal advocate. 

 

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