If a night at the opera feels like something from a bygone era after a year of COVID, this Orfeo release might just remind you what all the fuss was about. Capturing a live performance of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos at the Vienna State Opera in 2014, Christian Thielemann and a stellar cast bring this tricky quasi-chamber piece to glorious life.
One of the most outstanding elements of this recording is the cohesion between conductor and singers. In Thielemann’s hands, the focus is on sustaining and shaping long phrases, and the effect is spellbinding, almost unbearably so as we reach the opera’s final, rapturous duet.
The late, great Johan Botha is Bacchus, one of the tenor’s trademark roles, and he sings with stentorian tone and unflagging stamina, yet with the lyricism and suppleness required of Strauss’ hero. As Ariadne, the classy Soile Isokoski gives a focused, ardent performance, by turns pensive and hopeful. Her Es Gibt ein reich pulses with feeling, her lyrical instrument momentarily taking on oceanic depth.
Sophie Koch is an experienced and vibrant Komponist, her steady mezzo communicating first bewilderment, then anger, and later passion. As the vivacious Zerbinetta, soprano Daniela Fally displays an almost offhand brilliance in her showpiece Grossmächtige Prinzessin but takes care to hint at her character’s weariness at life in the fast lane. As the nymphs Naiad, Dryad, and Echo, Valentina Naforniță, Rachel Frenkel and Olga Bezsmertna sing with sparkle and precision. The rest of the cast are equally impressive.
Composer: Richard Strauss
Work: Ariadne auf Naxos
Performers: Soile Isokoski s, Johan Botha t, Daniela Fally s, Sophie Koch ms, Vienna State Opera & Chorus / Christian Thielemann,
Label: Orfeo C996202 (2CD)