Ariadne auf Naxos


Saturday, 9th October 2010
7.30 pm

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Ariadne auf Naxos was conceived as a musical complement to Molière’s
comedy The Bourgeois Gentleman. Strauss warmed to the subject
matter only slowly; Hofmannsthal had to describe the inner concept of
the work to him with great vividness in order to inspire him: “Transformation
is the life of life itself, the real mystery of nature as creative
force. Permanence is numbness and death. Whoever wants to live must
surpass himself, must transform himself: he has to forget. And yet all
human merit is linked with permanence, unforgetfulness, constancy.“
The two of them spent a long time writing and rewriting the work until
it grew into an opera in its own right that ultimately had no more need
of Molière’s text.
The richest man in Vienna is giving a party. A serious opera, Ariadne auf
Naxos, has been written especially for the occasion by a young composer,
and famous singers have been engaged. More light-hearted entertainment is
to be provided by Zerbinetta with her commedia dell’arte troupe. Fireworks
have been ordered. The banquet lasts longer than planned and time is running
short, so the host decrees that the opera and the burlesque performance should
take place at the same time. This decision hurts the pride of the composer
and singers; sharing the stage with a rabble of comedians is beneath their
dignity. But what can they do? He who pays the piper calls the tune! So Zerbinetta
and her consorts whirl around Ariadne’s desolate island. As a remedy
for the princess’s grief over Theseus’s infidelity she recommends her own carefree
polygamy. Ariadne’s sorrow really is transformed into happiness by a
new love; it is not the death she yearned for that carries her off but the young
god Bacchus on his ship.
The enforced merger of comedy and tragedy and the concomitant contrast
between carefree living and emotion-laden pathos results in a work
about love and fidelity, ideals and reality that is full of wisdom. The artists’
quarrelling in the prologue and the play within a play provide a selfreflective
history of operatic culture for which Strauss supplied a suitable
score. Taking 18th century forms as the basis of his music he went on
to create a new and unique style that reflects baroque tonal concepts and
at the same time mirrors Hofmannsthal’s theme in musical form: transforming
what already exists to create new life.