A recording featuring Deb Voigt and Natalie Dessay, both high on my list of singers I’d like to party with, obviously has to be seen. They feature in a 2003 recording of Ariadne auf Naxos from the Met. It’s a Moshinsky production, directed for this run by Laurie Feldman. It’s pretty traditional in most respects though there are some interesting touches in the second act. We are squarely in the house of the richest man in Vienna c. 1750. No Konzept here. In fact, the first act is traditional too in that the acting is broad, going on coarse grained. Dessay brings a touch of distinction, managing to effectively portray the more vulnerable side of Zerbinetta. Voigt too is very fine, and very much with the overall mood, as a completely over the top stroppy diva. She’s definitely playing for laughs. Susanne Mentzner’s Composer and Wolgang Brendel’s Music Master are both quite competent but suffer a bit from the pantomime acting the director appears to want.
Things improve after the break. Visually the production gets much more interesting with a sort of astrological backdrop and very striking giant nymphs. Voigt’s take on Ariadne is perhaps unusual. It’s quite human, even gentle. Es gibt ein Reich is almost welcoming and domestic. It’s world’s away from the frigid hauteur of Jessye Norman or the Teutonic iciness of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf but it’s effective on it’s own terms. Dessay is just brilliant. Her singing and her body language manage to evoke the two sides of Zerbinetta perfectly. Grossmächtige Prinzessin is wonderful and brings the house down in one of the longest, loudest bursts of applause I’ve ever come across. The Bacchus scene is effective with Richard Margison as a straightforward and very loud Bacchus (I know how loud he can be. I’ve heard his Nessun dorma at ten paces). There’s some really good singing from the trio of nymphs (Joyce Guyer, Jossie Pérez and Alexandra Dehorties) and good work from a young Nathan Gunn as Harlequin.
Unsurprisingly, James Levine conducts. It’s a rather dramatic reading of the score. The big moments are very clearly pointed up and the lyrical bits are lush. It suits the rather broad nature of the production but at times I found myself comparing his phrasing with Andrew Davis’. The latter makes one want to dance which Levine doesn’t quite do. Still, it’s a very fine performance and of course the orchestra gives him exactly what he asks for.
Video direction is by Brian Large and it’s a typical Large telecast. There are lots of close ups and head shots, the odd very strange camera angle and a sense that there’s more going on than we get to see. This probably doesn’t matter so much in the rather cluttered first act but I would have preferred to see more of the stage picture in Act 2. Technically the disk is fine with a good quality widescreen picture and DTS sound that is detailed, spacious and solid. There are no extras. Subtitle options are English, French, german, Italian and Spanish. The booklet features a short history of the piece and a rather fawning interview with Levine but no chapter listing.
This is worth seeing, especially for traditionalists, for Dessay’s brilliant Zerbinetta. I suspect opinion would be divided about Voigt’s rather gentle Ariadne but I rather enjoyed it.