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GODS AND FOOLS Ariadne auf Naxos is both a chaotic, raucous comedy celebrating our most mundane, profane impulses, and a meditative contemplation of humanity’s highest calling—love, and its expression through our greatest art form, music. It is a love letter to Love and “capital-A” Art, recognizing that a true expression of either must encompass both the ethereal and the earthly aspects of humanity. The piece is composed in two parts: a Prologue, wherein we meet the members of an opera troupe and a group of clowns in their “offstage” personas as they bicker backstage, and the Opera when those same groups are forced to present their quite different entertainments simultaneously. The Opera was conceived in 1912, where we set our scene, as the second half to an evening which included a play and some incidental music. It is full of sublime music, and explores deep philosophical questions. In fact, the libretto was a bit dense even for composer Richard Strauss, who, after an early read, required a bit of explanation from his librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. After receiving his reply, Strauss wrote, “Your letter (explaining the piece) is so beautiful and explains the meaning of the action so wonderfully that a superficial musician like myself could not, of course, have tumbled to it. But isn’t this a little dangerous?…If even I couldn’t see it, just think of the audiences—and the critics!…just think of those asses of spectators, the lot of them, starting with the composer!” For his part, Hofmannsthal insisted that important truths should not be easily uncovered, and that Strauss’ music would provide clarity. However, the Prologue was later added, in part to explain why the comic characters keep interrupting a serious opera production. A straightforward farce, it provides a comic foil and basis for the Opera to come. Hofmannsthal posits the piece as a contemplation on fidelity, pitting the twin heroines in opposite camps: operatic Ariadne represents the eternally faithful lover, who pines away and seems to choose death in the absence of her paramour, while the comedienne Zerbinetta has a much more practical approach to romance. After bemoaning her fickle attachment to various lovers, she rationalizes, “If God had intended for us (women) to resist men, why would He have made them in so many varieties?” Zerbinetta spends the evening trying to convince Ariadne to move on, to give up on “one true love,” but is nonetheless deeply touched when love finds Ariadne. Both are completely transformed by the power of love (and love’s music)—a possibility open to us all. Whatever its duration, the spiritual Ariadne and the sensual Zerbinetta each experience love as a sublime transformative encounter. In fact, it is Zerbinetta who reminds us, “When a new god comes, we surrender without a word.” Mute incomprehension seems the only rational response. Ariadne auf Naxos reminds us that transcendence is a possibility for every person. Love will almost certainly make us fools, but it may also make us gods, if only for a moment. Tara Faircloth, director


Profile for Wolf Trap Foundation

Wolf Trap Opera Summer 2019  

Wolf Trap Opera Summer 2019