Opera Scotland

Ariadne on Naxos 2021Edinburgh International Festival

Read more about the opera Ariadne auf Naxos

Ariadne auf Naxos has been one of the most frequently performed operas at the Edinburgh International Festival, going right back to the earliest days with Sir Thomas Beecham in 1950.

This 2021 Festival production was, of necessity in a pandemic, the first occasion on which it was given in concert form. It must be said, straight away, that the first night was a near-complete success, with all the participants on excellent form.

Fortunately the makeshift auditorium of a huge marquee on the playing fields of Edinburgh Academy Junior School, adjacent to the Botanic Gardens, did not have to compete with a stiff breeze or torrential rain, as had happened on earlier occasions. Indeed the evening was, weather-wise, quite pleasant, and under the clearest of skies throughout the evening it was just about possible to sit comfortably in shirt-sleeves. EIF management must be congratulated on their attention to creating a performing environment that both made life difficult for the Covid virus and reassuring for opera fans.

The size of the tent meant that some level of amplification was necessary, but this was, in general, tactfully managed and well-balanced. The RSNO, under Lothar Koenigs, played superbly, despite being well spread out to cope with the requirements of Covid strictures. Their blended sound was warm and a beautiful Straussian sheen spread over the evening. 

The cast was highly interesting. Dorothea Röschmann made a very welcome Edinburgh appearance. Her warm-toned soprano sounded larger and more velvety than expected - close to the ideal Strauss sound. It did take her upper register time to warm up - the top was not ideally smooth to begin, and she had an uncomfortable moment at the climax to 'Es gibt ein Reich'.  However thereafter her voice was fine.

There was an enthusiastic welcome home for Catriona Morison in a major role. She has an excellent stage presence, and the perfect high mezzo for the Composer - as well as some other Strauss parts such as Octavian. The voice opened out warmly and thrillingly as the Prologue reached its climax.

The star tenor David Butt Philip first came to attention in Scotland in a couple of Perth Festival appearances with English Touring Opera. In 2019 he made an impression with his Edinburgh debut in Elgar's Kingdom. He has already sung at the Met and will lead the cast as Walther in Die Meistersinger at the Vienna State Opera next year. The part of Bacchus is notorious stressful, though brief.  But Butt Philip conquered all its difficulties, generally very high ones, with ease. His sound is unusually bright and youthful, and Bacchus is not the only heroic part for which he will be ideal.

The part of Zerbinetta is one of those notorious characters requiring stupendous vocal accomplishment combined with physical activity. To these the delightful Brenda Rae added an unexpected sweetness of tone which was most enjoyable to hear. Thomas Quasthoff was, as expected, a scene-stealer for the high comedy of the Major-Domo. The Dancing and Music Masters were impressive in the familiar hands of Peter Bronder and the less known Martin Gantner.

The trio of Nymphs made a mellifluous blend, firmly anchored by the rich mezzo of Claire Barnett-Jones, a recent late entrant (and finalist) at the Cardiff competition. The quartet of comedians, led by Joshua Hopkins, all sang well, despite having to spread across the stage more than is ideal.  The handling of these four, with gallumphng dance sequences, was one of a handful of places where the direction of Louis Muller didn't quite work.

Nevertheless, that the isolation of Ariadne has to be interrupted by others from the sub-plot was an irony and source of amusement not missed by the socially-spaced members of the audience. In this way the opera was made to seem the most appropriately chosen work for this particular Festival. Given a real punch in the closing scenes, the drama was brought out strongly in this most memorable of performances.

For these concert performances, and following on from the marvellous Götterdämmerung two years ago, Sir Andrew Davis was to have been reunited with the RSNO.  An acknowledged expert Straussian, he conducted Ariadne and many other operas when he worked as music director at Glyndebourne.  Sadly he had to withdraw due to a family bereavement.

Performance DatesAriadne on Naxos 2021

Map List

Edinburgh Academy Junior School | Edinburgh

25 Aug, 19.30 27 Aug, 19.30 29 Aug, 19.30

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