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Ariadne auf Naxos RICHARD STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)

Canadian Opera Company 2010/2011

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

Table of Contents Ariadne auf Naxos: Backgrounds and Characters.................................................................3 Ariadne auf Naxos: Synopsis and The Myth of Ariadne.....................................................5 Richard Strauss......................................................................................................................................6 The Life and Times of Richard Strauss........................................................................................7 Ariadne auf Naxos: What to Look for..........................................................................................9 The Real Roles: Interviews with Dean Burry and Sandra Corazza..................................10 Ariadne auf Naxos: Listening Guide............................................................................................13

Cover: The COC presents Ariadne auf Naxos. Peter Hoare as Bacchus and Janice Watson as Ariadne in the Welsh National Opera’s production, 2004. Below: A scene from the Welsh National Opera’s production, 2004. Photos: Clive Barda

Canadian Opera Company 2010/2011

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

Ariadne auf Naxos: Backgrounds and Characters Ariadne auf Naxos had its premiere on Oct. 25, 1912 at the Hoftheatre in Stuttgart, Germany. It is one of six operas that Richard Strauss collaborated on with German poet and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Together they created such successful operas as Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier and Die Frau ohne Schatten, all of which are still commonly staged today.

heroic mythological figures in 18th-century costume” with characters from the commedia dell’arte. This new opera was originally conceived to be a 30-minute divertissement performed at the end of von Hofmannsthal’s adaptation of Molière’s play, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. The “bourgeois” of the title, Monsieur Jourdain, is determined to become a gentleman by any means. He organizes entertainments to impress his guests, including a Turkish ballet, which in the Strauss/von Hofmannsthal version of the play is replaced by their opera, Ariadne auf Naxos.

Ariadne was conceivably their most challenging work, taking nearly five years to complete to their satisfaction. The concept for Ariadne was an original invention of Strauss and von Hofmannsthal in which they sought to combine opera seria (heroic opera) with commedia dell’arte (improvised Italian comedy). The opera section itself is based on the Greek myth of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete. She falls in love with Theseus, the son of the King of Athens, who has been sacrificed to the Minotaur; a half human/half bull creature who lives in a labyrinth. Ariadne gives Theseus a magical yarn to help guide him back to the light after he has killed the Minotaur. The lovers are reunited and sail to the island of Naxos where Theseus abruptly abandons his bride. This is the point in the myth where von Hofmannsthal’s action in Ariadne begins. Strauss had completed the full score for Der Rosenkavalier in September 1910 and was at once eager for more work. In a letter dated March 20, 1911, von Hofmannsthal suggested an idea for a new piece: “a 30-minute opera for small chamber orchestra… called Ariadne auf Naxos… combining

Ariadne auf Naxos is a rental from Welsh National Opera. The opera is sung in German with English SURTITLES™.

Although it began as a 30-minute interlude, the opera portion of the work grew to 90 minutes in length. This, combined with the incidental music Strauss wrote for the Molière, plus the play itself, resulted in an evening that was over six hours long. In its premiered form, the work was impractical: it required a company of actors as well as an opera company and its length was likely to be a problem for audiences. In 1913 von Hofmannsthal and Strauss began to revise the piece by eliminating Molière altogether and creating instead a self-contained operatic prologue to precede the opera section of the original concept. The libretto for the prologue was based on a spoken scene which had linked the Molière play to the opera in which the character of the young Composer was introduced. The creators also moved the action from 17th-century Paris to 19th-century Vienna. The second, final version premiered at the Hofoper, Vienna on Oct. 4, 1916 and became the standard repertory version performed to this day.

Book your school group tickets now! Dress Rehearsal: April 27, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.

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Performances: April 30 May 3, 12, 15, 18, 21, 27, 29, 2011 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

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Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide


MAIN CHARACTERS Name Description The Prima Donna (later Ariadne) The Tenor (later Bacchus) Zerbinetta commedia dell’arte player Harlequin commedia dell’arte player Scaramuccio commedia dell’arte player Truffaldino commedia dell’arte player Brighella commedia dell’arte player The Composer His Music Master The Dancing Master A Wig Maker A Footman An Officer The Major-Domo Naiad nymph Dryad nymph Echo nymph


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Voice Type Pronunciation Soprano ah-ree-YAHD-neh Tenor BAH-kus Coloratura soprano dzer-bee-NEH-tah Baritone ahr-leh-KEE-noh Tenor scah-rah-MOO-choh Bass troo-fahl-DEE-noh Tenor bree-GEH-lah Mezzo-soprano Baritone Tenor Baritone Bass Tenor Speaking role MAY-jor DOH-moh High soprano NYE-ad Contralto DRY-ad Soprano EHK-oh

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

Ariadne auf Naxos: Synopsis and The Myth of Ariadne SYNOPSIS The Prologue Backstage of a private theatre in a mansion, the Music Master protests to the Major-Domo because he has learned that the opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, newly composed for performance at a soirée at the mansion that evening, will be followed by a “vulgar” performance by a troupe of comedians and a fireworks display. He complains that the Composer (the Music Master’s protégé) will be deeply offended by this arrangement. Haughtily, the MajorDomo tells him that since his employer, the richest man in Vienna, is paying for the production, his instructions cannot be altered. The Major-Domo exits. The Composer then enters and soon encounters Zerbinetta, the leading lady of the comic troupe that is to mount The Fickle Zerbinetta and her Lovers.

For a moment, Ariadne mistakes him for her Theseus, but regaining her senses, she greets Bacchus as a god of peace. Her grief is transformed, and, with Bacchus, she chooses life over death. Zerbinetta re-enters to the knowing remark, “When the new god approaches, we surrender without a word.”

The Major-Domo returns to announce a change in plans, which will subject the Composer’s opera to further

THE MYTH OF ARIADNE Many variations of myths exist as they were passed down through the oral tradition. Ariadne is best known in Greek mythology as the daughter of Minos, King of Crete and Pasiphae (who was daughter of the sun-god, Helios).

One year, Theseus, one of the kings of Athens, agreed to take the place of one of the sacrificial Athenian boys and volunteered to slay the Minotaur. On his arrival to Crete, Ariadne fell in love with Theseus at first sight and offered

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The Opera The stage is set for the opera Ariadne auf Naxos. On the deserted island of Naxos, the anguished Ariadne, recalling how she was abandoned by the untrue Theseus, prays for death. Zerbinetta and the other comedians enter and attempt to console Ariadne with singing and dancing. Ariadne retreats into a cave in the rocks, and the comedians flirt with Zerbinetta. After this interlude, the opera continues, and the god Bacchus enters.

As the Music Master predicted, the Composer is furious when he learns of the decision to present a comic work following his own serious opera. The Prima Donna, who is to appear as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, enters and wastes no time in exhibiting her disdain for Zerbinetta and her troupe of comedians. Zerbinetta responds with an equally contemptuous statement that the “boring” serious opera will spoil the evening.

To stop persecution by Minos, who invaded Athens to avenge his son’s death, the Athenians were forced to agree to sacrifice seven young men and women to be devoured by the Minotaur (a creature with the head of a bull and a body of a man). The Minotaur was housed in the heart of a complex labyrinth, or maze.

indignities: in order to avoid any delay to the fireworks display, Ariadne auf Naxos and The Fickle Zerbinetta must somehow be performed simultaneously! The Composer is horrified, but the Dancing Master from the comic troupe suggests that the performance will work out well because his players are good at improvising. Cuts are made to the music of Ariadne auf Naxos, and Zerbinetta decides that she and her companions will do what they can to enliven the piece. Zerbinetta then charms the Composer into reluctantly accepting this arrangement.

to help him. She gave him a sword and a ball of red string to help him find his way out of the labyrinth. Theseus slew the Minotaur and escaped with Ariadne and his fellow Athenians. En route back to Athens he abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos. Bacchus (as known by the Romans and also known as Dionysus to the Greeks), the god of wine and fertility, found Ariadne on the island and married her. Twists to the Tale In a few versions of the myth, Dionysus appeared to Theseus as he sailed away and ordered him to leave Ariadne on Naxos, as he had already chosen her for his wife.

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide


Richard Strauss Composer Richard Strauss was born on June 11, 1864, in Munich, Germany into a musical background (but was no relation to the famous “waltz” family). His father Franz was a successful horn player who worked frequently for the innovative composer Richard Wagner. However, Franz Strauss was a conservative. He guided his son’s musical training and encouraged the more accepted ideas and traditions of Schumann and Brahms. Richard Strauss’s meeting with Alexander Ritter (a violinist who was married to Wagner’s niece) was of great importance. The two became friends and spent hours talking about the structure and form of Wagner and Franz Liszt. These ideas came together to influence Strauss’s composing voice in the tone poem* Don Juan (1889). The audience’s reaction was strong and mixed, but Strauss had grabbed their attention. He had made his mark and found a niche. Subsequent tone poems included Tod und Verklärung (1889), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1894), Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897) and Ein Heldenleben (1898). In 1894 he married the singer Pauline de Ahna, for whom he wrote his first songs, including Morgen! and Cäcilie. It seemed natural that he follow the dramatic instincts he exhibited in his tone poems by composing works for the operatic stage. After two unsuccessful efforts, Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), he had a great success with Salome (1905), based on the play by Oscar Wilde. It caused a sensation, not just for its lurid subject matter, but also for the music, which explored new areas of tonality and dissonance. The overriding eroticism of Salome was shocking to audiences and many attended performances simply to decry it, as for any other reason. Some feared that Salome would destroy Strauss’s career, but in fact it was a financial success for the composer. Elektra (1909) marked the beginning of Strauss’s collaborations with the librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, with whom he also worked on Der Rosenkavalier (1910), Ariadne auf Naxos (1916), and Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919). After von Hofmannsthal’s death, Strauss found new collaborators, and went on to write Arabella (1933) and Capriccio (1940).


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A portrait of Strauss by Max Liebermann, 1918. Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin.

During the war years, Strauss became the “court composer” for the Third Reich. Quietly critical of Hitler’s dictatorship, he nonetheless was criticized in later years for not having used his position to more openly refute the regime. His last years saw the completion of Capriccio and his final work, the Four Last Songs (1948), the latter a triumphant conclusion to a long and brilliant career. He died Sept. 8, 1949, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Strauss was influenced by Liszt, Wagner and Mozart, but ultimately his music stands alone and still holds the ability to shock, thrill and ravish its audience.

*tone poem (or symphonic poem) is a piece of orchestral music which evokes the narrative of a story, poem, novel, illustration or other non-artistic source.

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

The Life and Times of Richard Strauss 1864

w Richard Strauss is born on June 11 in Munich, Germany.

w Massey Hall opens in Toronto and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is founded.

w The first fish and chips shop opens in London, England.


w Strauss’s opera Salome premieres in Dresden to great acclaim.

w American author Nathanial Hawthorne, best known for The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables, dies in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

w Albert Einstein publishes papers which lay the foundation for quantum physics.

w Las Vegas, Nevada is founded.


w Strauss hears his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. Wagner’s music will have a significant influence on Strauss’s compositions.


w The collaboration between Strauss and librettist Hofmannsthal begins. Their opera, Elektra, debuts in Dresden, Germany.

w Austrian novelist, poet, dramatist and librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal is born in Vienna.

w The U.S. Navy founds a naval base in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.

w The first Grey Cup football tournament is held in Toronto.

w Guglielmo Marconi wins the Nobel Peace Prize for Physics for the development of wireless telegraphy (radio).


w Ariadne auf Naxos is poorly received at its premiere in Stuttgart. It goes under major revisions and the new version is performed a few years later in Vienna.

w Author of the Anne of Green Gables series, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Canada’s 10th Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, are born.


w Strauss enters Munich University where he studies art history and philosophy.

w Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 Overture debuts in Moscow.


w Strauss succeeds his mentor Hans von Bülow as the conductor of the Meiningen Court Orchestra.

w RMS Titanic sinks on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City.

w The first Calgary Stampede is held in Calgary, Alberta.

w Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical The Mikado opens in London, England.


w Von Hofmannsthal dies shortly after the suicide of his son Franz.

w Canadian rebel leader of the Métis Louis Riel is executed for high treason.

w The first Academy Awards are held in Hollywood, California.


Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada, is established.


w Soprano Pauline de Ahna and Richard Strauss marry.

w The Wall Street Stock Market crashes beginning the 10-year economic slump, The Great Depression.

w Coca-Cola is sold in bottles for the first time.

w Canadians Frank Gehry, architect, and actor Christopher Plummer are born.

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Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide



w Strauss is appointed the “court composer” for the Third Reich under the Nazi regime.

w Adolf Hitler becomes the Chancellor of Germany.

w Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge begins in San Francisco Bay, California.

w Emily Murphy, Canadian jurist, author, first female magistrate and one of “the Famous Five” women’s rights activists, dies in Edmonton, Alberta.


w Strauss conducts his “Olympisches Hymne” (“Olympic Hymn”) at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, German. He is quietly dismissed from his post as “court composer.”

w Science broadcaster and environmental activist David Suzuki is born in Vancouver.

w The hydroelectric power generating station the Hoover Dam is completed.

1949 w Richard Strauss dies in Germany at the age of 85.

w Arthur Miller’s play, The Death of a Salesman, premieres in New York City.

w George Orwell publishes his famous novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.


w Astronaut, engineer and politician, Marc Garneau is born in Quebec City. He will become the first Canadian to go into space in 1984.

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The COC presents Ariadne auf Naxos. Janice Watson as Ariadne in the Welsh National Opera’s production, 2004. Photo: Clive Barda

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

Ariadne auf Naxos: What to Look for Director Neil Armfield admits that it took him a long time to learn to appreciate Ariadne auf Naxos and to find the emotional core beneath its layers of comedy and irony. Armfield and designer Dale Ferguson have made the two halves of the piece as visually separate as possible. The power plays of the prologue take place backstage in a modern theatre symbolizing the realistic world. In contrast, Ariadne’s island in the opera proper is an abstract creation of torn canvasses showcasing the heightened theatrical experience of a stage. The link between the two is that Ariadne’s island is contemporary looking making the transformation between the modern backstage to the opera proper more believable for the audience.

Ferguson updates the prologue, bringing it forward from the original 18th-century setting to the present day. The Wig Maker in the backstage theatre setting is an overthe-top leather queen, and the commedia dell’arte troupe eat take-out pizza before they walk onto the stage. A clear class distinction is made between the opera troupe and the commedia dell’arte. The opera troupe is caught preparing for the performance, donning pinned up hair and half-finished make-up, like stereotypical opera divas. The commedia dell’arte performers are dressed as “beach bums.” The costume design reinforces the absurdity of the opera seria troupe, and in a sense, making them funnier than the commedia performers. In the final scene, the light emanating through Ferguson’s ripped and sand-blown backdrop creates a euphoric starscape that emphasizes the ethereal love and the intense emotions of the duet between Ariadne and Bacchus.

Notice how the starry lighting on stage resembles the balcony lights. What effect does this have on the ending of the opera?

The COC presents Ariadne auf Naxos. Peter Hoare as Bacchus and Janice Watson as Ariadne in the Welsh National Opera’s production, 2004. Photo: Clive Barda

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Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide


The Real Roles: Interviews with Dean Burry and Sandra Corazza In the world of opera, there is a huge group of talented individuals never seen onstage, but without whom the singers and musicians would have no music, no scenery and no costumes. In Ariadne auf Naxos we see some of these behind-the-scenes characters, including the Composer and the Wig Maker, and some of their (dramatized) relationships with the performers and the opera.

Read on for interviews with opera composer Dean Burry and COC costume supervisor Sandra Corazza, who discuss how and why they began working in opera, and what being a part of the opera world means to them.

The COC presents Ariadne auf Naxos. Brian Galliford (centre) as the Dancing Master in the Welsh National Opera’s production, 2004. Photo: Clive Barda


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Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide


Composer of The Brothers Grimm, Isis and the Seven Scorpions and many other operas for young and adult audiences. How did you get into composing music, and what is your training? I started taking piano lessons when I was six, but was ready to give it all up a few years later. Just when I was ready to abandon the lessons, I got a teacher who threw all of the “formal” music books on the floor and encouraged me to compose. I went from dreading five minutes at the piano to spending hours “fooling around” and creating my own music. I actually got pretty serious about composition when I was around 10; at first writing a lot of cheesy pop songs but then working on more artistic music. I grew up in Gander, Newfoundland, where there weren’t any composers so I listened to a lot of music and wrote whatever I could. I did my bachelor’s degree in saxophone but I knew that writing was where my heart was so I came to Toronto in 1994 to do a master’s degree in composition at the University of Toronto. How long have you been involved with the COC? About 13 years. After finishing my master’s degree, I got a job working in the box office at the COC. I wasn’t exactly composer-in-residence, but it got me in the door. The next year I started running the After School Opera Program and writing pieces for the Ensemble Studio School Tour. What’s your favourite opera that you’ve seen or participated in, and why? There have been several, but I think one of my favourite was the COC’s production of Peter Grimes from 2003. It is a stunning musical work and the Newfoundlander in me certainly relates to the story of maritime tragedy. The opera was perfectly cast and was a great example of how far an opera can take you down the emotional path. What is your role backstage before and during a show? I need to be as far away from backstage as possible. By the time one of my operas is ready to go, I have to step back and “give the work over” to the performers, technical crew

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Dean Burry. Photo: Anand Maharaj

and the conductor. Opera is a great collaboration and once the music and libretto is taken care off, I have to step back and let someone else sing. What’s your most memorable backstage story? I think one of my assets as a theatrical composer is the fact that I have actually done a lot of acting. Back before coming to Toronto I was playing Seymour in a production of The Little Shop of Horrors that was being presented in a large circus tent. Our costumes were all stored in a makeshift dressing room right on the grass. I had been courting a slight sore throat so I filled up my pockets with extra lozenges to pop in my mouth at free moments during the show. You can imagine my concern when moments before the show, I discovered that an entire colony of ants had discovered the sugary lozenges and decided to make a homestead in my pants. It was certainly one of my more “animated” performances.

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide



constantly went over the costumes, again and again… and when it hit the stage, you would have thought we spent a million bucks.

COC Costume Supervisor

How and why did you get into costume creation? Why costumes? Because you get to play dress-up! In high school, I thought dance would be pretty cool so I went to an audition with a friend who I took dance lessons with, and I got a part. I remember being on stage and thinking “the people backstage are having more fun than I am!” I think I made two of my costumes, and thought “Hey! I can do that!” I attended Niagara College for technical theatre – the first year you did everything: sound, lighting, costumes, movement, voice, etc. and then you chose something particular to focus on in your second year. How long have you been involved with the COC? My 20th season is coming up. Before that I did brief halfseasons at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Banff Centre. But the costume department at the COC is my baby, and I’m very territorial! What’s your favourite opera that you’ve seen or participated in, and why? Béatrice et Bénédict: We worked with a Canadian designer named Christina Poddubiuk who does a lot of work at Stratford and the Shaw Festival. It was such a team effort to make that show go on. The budget was so tight, and she was so creative. There were three of us on the team and we

And Oedipus Rex… and the Ring Cycle! It’s about Michael Levine – creating for him and making solid what he envisions. We got to take Oedipus and Bluebeard’s Castle/ Erwartung [which were both designed by Michael Levine] to Edinburgh. And with those I’ve been able to go to other countries so that’s neat. I remember being in Australia with Bluebeard… I was backstage and heard the final sound – which isn’t music, but a psychiatrist slapping his notebook shut. There was silence. I’m backstage thinking, “Come on, come on.” And then boom, they burst into applause. What is your role backstage before and during a show? When I’m backstage I’m trying to hand the show off to the people who will be running the show, because after opening night I’m not there. So you can’t just do; you have to encourage and teach. It’s a lot of, “Make sure he’s got the gun,” and “No, tie his bow like this.” The first couple of rehearsals are about “Is the performer happy, is the designer happy?” and after that it’s about “Can it stay how it’s supposed to be when I’m gone?” What’s your most memorable backstage story? Russell Braun, who is already a sweet, sweet man, was playing the evil brother in Lucia di Lammermoor – so opposite to his character, you know: long coat, high leather boots, vicious looking. We’re backstage and one of the chorus singers is there with her two little children. And there’s Russell Braun, sitting on the floor, telling them stories and singing them songs, and being really sweet. And then he hears the music and goes “Oh! Gotta go now!” and runs onstage to sings a song about sending his sister to a horrible fate!”

Sandra Corazza addresses a group at a COC Friends’ event. Photo: COC, 2011


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Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

Ariadne auf Naxos Listening Guide The tracks listed below correspond to the complimentary Listening Guide CD provided to school group bookings only. The concept for Ariadne auf Naxos was an invention of the composer Strauss and his librettist von Hofmannsthal in which they sought to combine opera seria (heroic opera) with commedia dell’arte (improvised Italian comedy). Strauss’s use of musical conventions such as recitativo accompagnato*, arias and duets echoes Baroque and Classical opera while not sounding exactly like it. The result is a chamber opera most of the time, but one that is firmly routed in the richer orchestral language of the earlier 20th century.


MUSICAL EXCERPT: Overture CONNECTION TO THE STORY When composing Ariadne auf Naxos, Strauss was inspired in part by theatrical and operatic traditions of the past, specifically, the works of Mozart. In the Classical period, Mozart utilized a smaller orchestra than was common 150 years later. Strauss therefore scored his opera for a reduced “period” orchestra of only 37 players, far fewer than was usual in 1912 and certainly much smaller than he had used for his earlier works: Salome, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier. The overture is a musical composition that introduces themes of a larger musical work. MUSICAL ELEMENTS AND SIGNIFICANCE Strauss achieves a lightness of texture by using a small 37-piece orchestra. The music is anything but light. The beginning of the overture harkens to music of the Baroque era (during which opera came to be) with the music being carried by the strings and continuo (pulsating low notes in the low strings) [0:00 – 0:50]. In this relatively short introduction, Strauss highlights the artistic tug-of-war that occurs throughout the opera through his use of two distinctive compositional textures: the light and detached notes representing commedia dell’arte [1:11 – 1:17] and the flowing, legato (Italian for “smooth”), and dramatic music for the opera seria [1:18 – 1:41]. For the remainder of the excerpt he weaves the two themes together foreshadowing their simultaneous performance in the second half of the opera. FURTHER REFLECTION In modern day, this type of layering of songs in pop music would be called a “mash up.” What is the purpose of a mash up? Some would argue that it ruins the integrity of the original song. Others argue that the “new” composition highlights the unification of two artistic genres or ideas. What do you think?

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*Recitativo accompagnato Recitative is a style of vocal composition that mimics speech, and is used between arias to link the action. Recitative is often accompanied by a single instrument. However accompagnato (accompanied) refers to recitative accompanied by the orchestra.

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide



MUSICAL EXCERPT: Seien wir wieder gut” (“Let’s make up”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY The Composer declares his conviction in the power of music, the most sacred of the arts. MUSICAL ELEMENTS AND SIGNIFICANCE Strauss’s admiration of Mozart is again evident in the character of the Composer, whose music exhibits the same lightness of touch which Mozart brought to the young pageboy, Cherubino, in Le nozze di Figaro. Like Cherubino, the Composer is another “pants role” in which a female singer (a soprano or mezzo-soprano) plays a male role. Initially horrified that his opera has to be performed simultaneously with the commedia troupe, the Composer summons up some courage in front of the artists. His true disappointment is almost revealed when he interrupts his own proclamation with the repetition of the word “jedoch” (“and yet”) accompanied by a large swell in of the orchestra only to remind himself to stay brave and go forth with the plans [0:40 – 0:59]. The Composer continues with a triumphant ode to music. He defends music as the highest of all art forms, for which Strauss writes the type of vocal line he is famous for: soaring, rapturous melodies for the high female voice which express intense feelings [1:14 – 2:01]. The abrupt change in music in the finale indicates the Composer’s horrific realization of the compromise that he has just made. FURTHER REFLECTION “Pants roles” are quite typical in opera. Why do you think composers choose to write male parts for women? Why not simply write them for men?


MUSICAL EXCERPT: Aria: “Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist” (“There is a realm where all is pure”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY In the first section of Ariadne’s great monologue, she has a vision of the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of death, and rejoices in the deliverance from the life he might provide for her. MUSICAL ELEMENTS AND SIGNIFICANCE Ariadne’s solo scenes in the second part of the opera represent the role’s more serious side. This role is traditionally sung by a larger-voiced, dramatic soprano in contrast to the lighter coloratura soprano of the comic character, Zerbinetta. These two roles are also distinguished by the type of music assigned to each of them. Ariadne’s lines are more richly-orchestrated, and the seriousness of her words (she welcomes death in this aria) are heightened by the use of minor keys and by exploiting the dramatic soprano’s darker lower register. Always playing with older operatic conventions, Strauss uses a harmonium (a free standing keyboard instrument similar to the organ) to take the place of the Baroque organ in backing up Ariadne’s lament.


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Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

Notice how Strauss paints Ariadne’s melody by connecting the emotions of her words to the music – woeful despair shown in the descent to her low notes for the words “Totenreich” (“Realm of Death”) [0:29 – 0:37]. Strauss also denotes hope, as indicated in the sudden more upbeat tempo (speed) and joyful tune, with “birdsongs” played in the flute, as she speaks of a messenger coming to save her [0:57 – 2:02]. And finally, freedom and escape from isolation, supported by an ascending tune supported by a full orchestra [4:23 – 5:21]. FURTHER REFLECTION Strauss believed that music and text were an integrated entity, emotionally linked, and that music alone was not the sole purpose of opera. Do you think Strauss achieved this in this aria? Why or why not?


MUSICAL EXCERPT: Recitative and aria: “Großmächtige Prinzessin” (“Most gracious Princess”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY In Zerbinetta’s showpiece coloratura aria, she tries to convince Ariadne to stop despairing over her abandonment by pointing out the only way to deal with a man’s fickle heart is to be promiscuous. Zerbinetta describes the satisfaction of having many lovers. MUSICAL ELEMENTS AND SIGNIFICANCE Zerbinetta and her team of commedia dell’arte sidekicks are the comic foils to Ariadne’s seriousness. Strauss’s music for Zerbinetta is challenging and requires a very high, flexible soprano voice. In addition to singing a technically challenging role, the role requires a convincing comic actor. Her scene is a vocal marathon, lasting over 11 minutes. Zerbinetta goes between recitative (sung-spoken style with a light accompaniment by the orchestra) [0:00 – 0:45] and aria (more melodic solo). Even when Zerbinetta is reaching out to Ariadne by copying her more heartfelt and dramatic music, her true comedic nature punctuates the tension with detached notes [1:05 – 1:13], clipped endings [3:24 – 3:34] and laughter, both in her melody and echoed in the orchestra [4:36 – 4:42]. She describes the feeling, when she realizes that a man has become enraptured with her, through a very earnest legato line (notice her melody being doubled in the strings indicating the man uniting in love with her) [5:23 – 5:51]. However, she quickly describes how this is the precise moment when she decides to be fickle and not commit. Her music is light and free, symbolizing her unpredictable nature and flirtatious heart [5:52 – 7:31]. FURTHER REFLECTION Zerbinetta is the queen of flirting and freedom in this opera. She’s a perfect contrast for the brooding Ariadne. Whose idea of love would you side with? What type of love songs are most appealing to you – upbeat, happy tunes or the sad love songs of broken hearts?

Canadian Opera Company 2010/2011

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide



MUSICAL EXCERPT: Finale: “Gibt es kein Hinüber?” (“Is there no passage?”) CONNECTION TO THE STORY The opera ends with an extended love duet for Bacchus and Ariadne. In Bacchus’s arms, Ariadne finds consolation. MUSICAL ELEMENTS AND SIGNIFICANCE Ariadne’s immense grief is overtaken by her love for Bacchus. When he first enters, Ariadne thinks Bacchus represents death, come to take her away. He hardly acknowledges her, singing instead about the goddess Circe from whose embraces he has just escaped. Tonally, Strauss conveys this initial misunderstanding with a contrast in the score between Ariadne’s music which is all written in flats while Bacchus’s is in sharps. Even though Ariadne is a chamber opera most of the time, Strauss’s rich scoring for the final duet, combined with its soaring vocal lines written for two big dramatic voices, turns the finale into something monumental with its impact on the listener. Listen for the shimmering stars in the harp and piano in Ariadne’s opening. The nyads join Ariadne in a soulful and peaceful tune. Zerbinetta interjects as per usual, but this time she does so in a melody associated with opera seria, finally succumbing to the power and emotion of dramatic opera [4:15 – 4:40]. FURTHER REFLECTION After hearing the selected excerpts – do you think that opera seria and commedia troupes successfully coexisted on stage? What impact did this joint performance have on each troupe? How is this opera a lesson in “the show must go on?”


Canadian Opera Company 2010/2011

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide

The COC offers a wide variety of school programs for Kindergarten to Grade 12. To find out more, visit our website at or contact: Education & Outreach Assistant Canadian Opera Company Tel: 416-306-2392 Fax: 416-363-5584 Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide contributors: Carly Anderson, Sarah Angus, Gianmarco Segato, Katherine Semcesen, Gillian Story and Gianna Wichelow.

The COC Gratefully Acknowledges:

Charitable Registration Number: 11883 4829 RR0001

Above: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo: Sam Javanrouh

Canadian Opera Company 2010/2011

Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide


Ariadne auf Naxos Study Guide  

In this opera-within-an-opera, madcap backstage melodrama is just a precursor to onstage expressions of love, loss and spiritual transformat...

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