MERGING REALITY WITH MYTHOLOGY The first part of Ariadne auf Naxos takes the audience through the preparations for a festive performance at the house of a wealthy Viennese count. In this so-called Vorspiel, we witness the interactions of performers, staff, and artistic personnel in preparation for a performance in real time. Interestingly, no one is addressed by their actual name, but rather by their title or function. This is not surprising, since Austria is a country where official titles and formality govern everyday exchanges, even in today’s society. At the Vienna State Opera, we often
The piano is prominent in the scenes of the comedy troupe, most significantly in Zerbinetta’s bravura aria. The music in those scenes is full of spirit, brilliance, and virtuosity. The harmonium is used not unlike a portative organ in baroque opera and is heard most prominently in Ariadne’s scenes. The celesta is heard in Bacchus’ music and helps to characterize the god. Right at the very end—when Ariadne and Bacchus find each other and Zerbinetta’s prediction is thus fulfilled—all three keyboard instruments play together and celebrate the union in their own musical way.
is always addressed by “Herr Direktor,” and even retired
THE CHANGING NATURE OF LIVE MUSIC
general managers are greeted with “Herr Direktor” when
Strauss was general manager of the Vienna State Opera
encountered. I was often addressed as “Herr Studienleiter”
from 1919 through 1924 and his operas are still frequently
(Mr. Head of Music), while I address our technical director
performed at the company. The second and final version
with “Herr Ingenieur.” Identifying everyone by their title
of Ariadne was first performed in 1916 and has been in the
or function creates the prerequisite formal atmosphere at
company’s repertoire ever since. One of the privileges I
the palatial mansion in Ariadne auf Naxos, and it also puts
had with the Vienna State Opera was the opportunity to
everyone “in their place.”
play performances on the original harmonium and out of
addressed colleagues by their title: our general manager
the original orchestra parts. Those parts have now been
FINDING JUXTAPOSITION IN MUSIC Strauss made his mark as a composer writing operas that require a large orchestra. His scores of Salome and Elektra call for an orchestra that frequently reaches over 100 players. The musical miracle of Ariadne is that Strauss achieves an incredibly rich and colorful orchestral sound with a chamber orchestra of some 30 players. The Ariadne score is actually more an extended symphonic piece of
THE MUSIC IN THOSE SCENES IS FULL OF SPIRIT, BRILLIANCE, AND VIRTUOSITY. chamber music, requiring the players to frequently play
used by colleagues for more than 100 years, with each individual adding in their own notes and remarks. One would think that with so many factors being equal—the space, the instrument, the music—there would be a “traditional” way of playing handed down from colleague to colleague. However, a harmonium has stops like an organ, and our printed music probably contains every possible registration and variation. Having since performed the opera with several conductors, I soon understood the reason behind this variety in performance practice and realized the need to change the performance settings. If a conductor held the orchestra down dynamically, a specific stop on the harmonium would suddenly sound too loud. A new soprano singing Ariadne would sing the passage with a different vocal color and would necessitate a change as well. Live music requires musicians to react to each other, and the score of Ariadne requires even more sensitivity and creativity from its orchestra players than most other opera scores. Strauss’ Ariadne is a true masterpiece.
alone or in small groups. The passages where all musicians play together create a sound that rivals the power of a large symphony orchestra. Especially interesting is Strauss’ extended use of keyboard instruments. A grand piano, a harmonium, and a celesta play an important role in this piece—each instrument is assigned to a specific musical and theatrical idea.
Thomas Lausmann recently left his position as Studienleiter at the Vienna State Opera to assume his new responsibilities as Director of Music Administration at The Metropolitan Opera in August 2019. He was a 1999 Coaching Fellow with WTO, and he returns to Wolf Trap this summer to coach the cast of Ariadne auf Naxos.