Ariadne auf Naxos - Longborough Festival Opera by Christopher Morley
In what is proving yet another bumper season for LFO deep in the lovely Cotswolds, their new production of Ariadne auf Naxos is a knockout.
Richard Strauss' opera which manages to combine backstage tensions, lowlife comedy and high tragic drama is complex in its textures and structures, but in a presentation such as this it emerges as a convincing, life-enhancing jewel.
Alan Privett's direction brings both wit and grandeur, plus an understandable acknowledgement of the score's Wagnerian elements (the three ethereal nymphs, for example, looking over the abandoned Ariadne, cast cat's-cradles of ropes like the three Norns which launch Gotterdammerung). He sets his action on Faye Bradley's simple, elegant two-levelled set, so stylishly lit by Ben Ormerod.
Yet all of this would be nothing without Anthony Negus's supercharged riding of Strauss' miraculous score. This is in fact a small-scale orchestra with fillers (Kelvin Lim outstanding in what is actually a concertante piano part), but together composer and conductor make it sound now like full-blown Tristanesque Wagner, now like the most intimate, heart-catching chamber music.
The cast has been brilliantly assembled and coached under Negus into a heartwarming ensemble, and didn't that outpour at the emotional curtain-call.
So many names deserving of mention, but outstanding were the four Commedia dell'Arte thespians, combining the Marx Brothers with the Village People, the Bacchus (coping well with his over-long robes) of Jonathan Stoughton in his second triumph this season, Helena Dix' achingly poignant Ariadne, and the absolutely gripping portrayal of the Composer (a twin of Rosenkavalier's Octavian?) by Clare Presland.
And then we come to Zerbinetta, soubrette leader of the Commedia players, masterminding their improvisations whilst giving the suffering Ariadne her pragmatic philosophy on life and men. Robyn Allegra Parton tossed off the coloratura encompassing nearly two-and-a-half octaves with insouciant aplomb, and proved an utterly enchanting onstage presence.