Richard Strauss’ brilliant opera bringing two theatrical worlds into collision receives a brilliant staging in Neil Armfield’s production for Welsh National Opera.
The wonderful backstage Prologue, performers’ egos, pizzachewing stage-hands and camp wigmakers was set on Dale Ferguson’s realistically intricate set.
But everything changed for the opera seria in the second half, bleak and empty, tears in the curtains through which the intruding commedia dell’arte characters could add their twopenn’orth of comments. And this visual spareness threw all the focus onto the quality of the performers.
Orla Boylan was a proud, dignified, tormented Ariadne, yet not without moments of humour when she was forced to take notice of the interlopers.
And Gillian Keith was incredible as the anarchic little minx Zerbinetta, her coloratura so pinpoint and matched to such sexy body-language.
The final conciliation of these two women, both succumbing to the attractions of whatever man next comes along, was touchingly conveyed.
In the breeches role of the Composer, Sarah Connolly was outstanding.
Her Wagnerian pedigree allowed all the score’s sly digs at that composer to tell, yet at the same time she portrayed all the boyish angst of this earnest, idealistic and deluded young artist.
Lothar Koenigs drew from his compact orchestra sounds and textures of sinewy opulence – and how Strauss’ masterly inclusion of an harmonium came across.