Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Minor flaws fail to erode charm of ‘Ariadne'

Presented by the Toledo Opera last night in the Valentine Theatre, a local premiere for this 1912 work, it drew raves and cheers from a large and enthusiastic crowd.

And small wonder. It's an inspired production in so many ways.

The large and talented cast literally offers a voice for every taste, from the Wagnerian majesty of soprano Barbara Quintiliani in the title role and tenor Michael Hayes as Bacchus, her love and salvation, to the Mozartian effervescence of soprano Heather Buck as Zerbinetta and tenor Mathew Edwardsen as the dance master.

Plus there's Strauss' radiant and ever-changing score, played beautifully, if at times a bit tentatively, by the Toledo Symphony under conductor Thomas Conlin.

Jonathan Fields' stage direction, particularly in the first act — the Prologue — adds wonderful visual clarity and depth to a setting that nears chaos level as the plot is revealed.

The libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal explores the eternal tension between “high” and “low” art as performers identifying with those camps try to adapt to last-minute changes in an evening's entertainment at the home of the richest man in Vienna.

No one, of course, wants to give up a minute in the spotlight.

But, in the second act — The Opera — Strauss makes it clear whose side he favored as the grand opera players prevail over the Commedia del'Arte troupe.

Never mind soprano Buck's amazing vocal gymnastics and dancing in her aria, once of the most famed in all of opera. In the end, Quintiliani claims center stage with long passages that, while wonderfully sung, slow the action to a crawl.

The difference in energy levels between the two acts is dramatic and makes the last half hour proceed very slowly indeed, beautiful singing notwithstanding.

Another curiosity of this production is the split in languages: the comedy troupe sings in English — some members are more understandable than others — while the opera performers sing in the original German, with supertitles in English provided.

Anomalies aside, the production is strong and well worth seeing, particularly as this opera is so rarely performed.

Ariadne auf Naxos, sponsored by the Yark Automotive Group, will be presented at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St. Tickets are $30 to $85. Information: 419-255-7464.

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