*Ariadne auf Naxos,* March 12, 2022
Richard and I saw Richard Strauss's *Ariadne auf Naxos* at the Met on March 12, 2022. I first discovered this opera in the 1980s, thanks to a Met telecast starring Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Tatiana Troyanos. Thank God for PBS! I had it on videotape and watched it over and over. I love this opera and have seen it four or five times.
The first act belongs to the Composer, which was played by Isabel Leonard. I've seen her quite a few times at the Met, most memorably as Mélisande and as Marnie. She's an intelligent singer with a lovely voice. I'd never heard her sing with so much thrust, which you need in this role, but she also sang with her usual sensitivity and attention to the text. She's playing Donna Elvira in the new production of *Don Giovanni* next season, I'm really looking forward to that.
The undisputed star of the show was Lise Davidsen as Ariadne. She's a rising young singer, only 35. She made her Met debut in 2019 as Lisa in *The Queen of Spades* and made a big splash. I heard her in one of the Met's streamed recitals during the pandemic and she really grabbed my attention with that, she seemed like a major singer. She played Eva in *Die Meistersinger* this fall - - I didn't see that but a good friend did and he was frothing at the mouth (not literally), so I was very excited indeed to hear her in person.
WOW. What a voice. I can only remember being so struck by a voice twice before, the first time I heard Anna Netrebko and the first time I heard Quinn Kelsey. In all three cases it was the sheer gorgeousness of the voice, its presence, its directness, a voice that made you lean forward and take notice. Her voice is quite large - - it slices through the hall but not in a cold way. It's a golden voice as opposed to a silver voice. It's thrilling to hear a voice like that, throwing itself out into the hall without any apparent effort. She seemed most at home when she was really letting it rip. A few quiet, floated phrases were lovely but sometimes when she sang quietly the sound was a little thin and bloodless. She's a young singer, she'll figure that out. I hope she has a long, splendid career ahead of her. I predict we'll be hearing her as Isolde in 5-10 years, and she will be amazing. Here she is in a clip from just a few days before:
I don't often notice the work of the conductor, but this time I did. Marek Janowski got off to a marvelous start with the overture, it was buoyant, crisp, full of charm and wit. Clearly the orchestra has a strong feeling for the style. But Janowski made a serious misstep in the second act, in Ariadne's first big aria. He moved things forward while she was pulling back and they got severely out of alignment. She was thrown off and it took her a few measures to find her footing. This sort of thing should be worked out in rehearsal, but the way I see it, it's the conductor's job in an opera performance to be sensitive to the needs of the singer.
The other star of the show was Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta, the high-flying vixen. Richard and I heard her in her Met debut role, Poppea in Handel's *Agrippina,* back in 2019. She's a Wisconsin girl - - I've never met her but she got her undergrad degree at UW-Madison and we have many mutual friends. She studied with Mimmi Fulmer, a good friend of mine, and Mimmi and her husband Ric came into town for this and we had lunch with them before the show. Brenda was marvelous. It's a fiendishly difficult part, lots and lots of high notes and demanding writing. She made it all sound like great fun. Best of all, she made the endless curlicues and roulades sound expressive and elegant - - they weren't just display. This is the difference between a singer and a musician.
Here's a clip of her, also recent, from this production:
The tenor lead is a smaller role compared to the others (he has a long final scene with Ariadne) but since they gave him the second-to-last bow, I feel I should talk about him. You might think I'm being petty talking about the order of the bows, but this really means something. Ariadne of course should have the final bow, she's the title character. The next person in the hierarchy should be Zerbinetta, she's on nearly equal footing with Ariadne. Plus she's the only character who has something really juicy to do in both acts. The tenor should have the third spot, he should NOT be above Zerbinetta. I was shocked and puzzled by this.
The tenor was Brandon Jovanovich. I heard him at the Met in *Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk* in 2014, he was impressive in that. His role in *Ariadne* is a treacherous one, very loud and exposed, with a consistently high placement in the voice. He sounded good at first but got into trouble about two thirds of the way through his scene. He was sounding tired and the approach to the high notes were sounding like they were requiring more effort each time. His final line was the most worrying. I could sense HIS worry going up to that B flat - - he made it but he rushed past it. He has a lot of Wagner coming up on his schedule. I'm concerned.