With the curtain officially coming down on the month-long extravaganza celebrating the operatic art form, those involved in the ambitious undertaking had much to be pleased with. This festival - the second under the artistic direction of Kent Nagano (who manned the podium himself for 15 evenings) - boasted a total of 65 events in all.
In the end, audiences had taken in their choosing of 19 different operas and two full ballet productions, plus a variety of song recitals and symphonic, chamber music, and visual concert performances. The Bavarian State Opera reported attendance figures reaching 98.2% with some 80,000 people purchasing tickets.
The first two brand new fully-staged festival operas were Mozart's Idomeneo in the reopened Cuvilli_s-Theater and the Munich premiere of Busoni's Doktor Faust in the Nationaltheater. This final production was the culmination of a series of events dedicated to the works of Munich-native Strauss, who was heavily featured during the final third of the festival.
The now two-part work was originally conceived by librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who wished to incorporate a brief operatic "divertissement" into his 1912 adaptation of Molire's comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme; a new twist to replace the scripted Turkish ceremony that traditionally closes the play. Strauss turned in a 90-minute chamber piece, which today comprises the 2nd part of the work as we know it. The resulting evening presented at the Stuttgart world premiere was a marathon play-plus-opera running six hours.
It was immediately evident that the excessive running time, coupled with the prohibitive expense of employing a full opera company in addition to the acting ensemble performing the bulk of the play, made the piece less than practical for future performance (though it has been presented on occasion in its original full-duration glory, notably at a recent Edinburgh International Festival).
In 1913 Hofmannsthal came up with the idea that the four and half hour straight play could be replaced by a short lead-in explaining the reasoning behind an opera that uniquely brings together the contrasting elements of a serious classical story with the comedic stylings of a commedia dell'arte group- an intentionally ludicrous combination that makes sense in its original context as the finale of Moliere's satirical masterpiece. With some amount of arm-twisting, Strauss agreed to transform the clever plot device into a standalone opera.
In 1916 the composer devised a "Prologue" where - in a scenario that would have made Shakespeare proud (or had him phoning his lawyers) - the disagreement between an opera composer and "the richest man in Vienna," who has commissioned an evening's entertainment, leads to a simultaneous performance by two different troupes: one a burlesque group led by comedienne Zerbinetta, and the other a serious opera company presenting the tale of the abandoned classical figure Ariadne. As a result, the action was moved from 17th century Paris to 19th century Vienna and the portion composed four years earlier became an opera within an opera.
As trumpeted by Bavarian State Opera production notes, "Is it possible to perform the comic intermezzo Zerbinetta and Her Lovers and the tragic opera Ariadne at the same time? Yes, when you have to. The richest man in Vienna wants it that way. He wants crossover! Let's mix up classic and pop... and it works- to the delight of the audience and the recognition of the characters on stage. One of the handsomest and wisest works of the great Munich composer, Richard Strauss, in a new Festival production."
In this minimalist bare-stage mounting, Canadian director Robert Carsen has added yet another layer to the piece by setting it in a ballet studio with dancers warming up in front of mirrored panels to start the performance. Munich audiences saw the Prologue portion end with the Komponist (Composer), having been seduced by Zerbinetta, handing his score to the conductor and stepping to the side of the stage where he watched the duration of the Opera portion. Intermissionless, this staging ran a brisk two hours and twenty minutes.
This Ariadne auf Naxos starred German coloratura soprano Diana Damrau as a sensual blonde-locked Zerbinetta. A quickly rising star on the international opera stage - now with 15 major productions as Queen of the Night under her belt - Damrau recently earned postive notices for her peformance as Konstanze in the Met's Die Entf‹hrung aus dem Serail. She will again appear on the Met stage this October when she steps in for a pregnant Anna Netrebko in Mary Zimmerman's acclaimed staging of Lucia di Lammermoor.
Joining her on the Munich stage last month were Martin Gantner as Ein Musiklehrer, Johannes Klama as Haushofmeister, Daniela Sindram as Der Komponist, Burkhard Fritz as Bacchus/Der Tenor, Guy de Mey as Ein Tanzmeister, Francesco Petrozzi as Ein Offizier, Christian Rieger as Ein Lakai, Adrian Sê¢mpetrean as Ein Per‹ckenmacher, Adrianne Pieczonka as Ariadne/Primadonna, Nikolay Borchev as Harlekin, Ulrich ReêÈ as Scaramuccio, Steven Humes as Truffaldin, Kevin Conners as Brighella, Aga Mikolaj as Najade, AnaÇk Morel as Dryade and Sine Bundgaard as Echo.
Kent Nagano conducted the Bavarian State Orchestra. Those who were unable to catch the three-performance run need not despair. This same production will be a part of next year's festival with much of the cast intact and Bertrand de Billy stepping into the conductor spot. There is talk that suggests it may be filmed next summer for eventual DVD release.
Bavarian State Opera is currently gearing up for its 2008/2009 season, which kicks off October 2 with the premiere of a new production of Verdi's Macbeth. Staged by Martin Kusej, it will boast Zeljko Lucic in the title role with Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth.
For tickets and information in English, visit Bavarian State Opera.
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All photos by Wilfried H‹sl for Bavarian State Opera.