Wednesday, July 02, 2008

That dress was little?

After all the fuss about the Little Black Dress in Ariadne auf Naxos, I have to report that said dress is a long-sleeved, ankle-length, opaque and voluminous gown. Flatteringly cut for best cleavage effect, but still not precisely 'little'.

Apart from that, the opera, which we saw last night, was a marvel from start to finish. It was the last performance in the run - sorry, but it was the only one for which hubby was free (some of us get in trouble if we go to operas by his great-granddad's cards buddy without him). Deborah Voigt's natural radiance and beauty shone out; and when she lets rip on those top notes Covent Garden floats several hundred metres into the air; if she sounded a tad less secure in the lower registers, frankly I am not complaining. (She wasn't matched by her tenor, not remotely, and frankly I am complaining about that...see Tosca comments, back to front as it were).

The rest of the cast was a knockout. Gillian Keith as Zerbinetta, a cross between Twiggy and the Queen of the Night, cast a silvery legato that wouldn't have disgraced an ondes martenot; every last decoration proved an expression of her daffy and vulnerable character. Thomas Allen made the very most of the Music Master, suggesting unspoken hidden depths to the personality as well as out-tenoring the tenor; best of all, to my ears, was the mezzo Kristine Jepson as The Composer, her flights of fantasy a source of magic to the Act 1 ragbag of characters, but her voice a revelation to those of us out front, a soaring, creamy Straussian that we'll run back to hear anytime we can. Oktavian, please! Special applause to luscious solo violin Vassko Vassiliev and SIR Mark Elder down t'pit. (Yes, Mark Elder got a knighthood. No, Vernon Handley didn't...)

A couple of passing thoughts. First, Hoffmansthal's letter to Strauss that is quoted in the programme should cause some raised eyebrows today - all that stuff about 'high' and 'low' understanding and how the two performing troupes are so far apart in this respect that they'll never understand each other; reading it, one feels he holds Zerbinetta and co in some contempt. Yet the opera comes across with wit, sympathy and tenderness to all, each side's viewpoint beautifully balancing the other and sparking perfect ironies. Intriguing.

Secondly, when Korngold wrote the final duet of Heliane, it would seem he was actually trying to write the final duet of Ariadne. He must have identified with Act I of this opera like the blazes, and he'd have been an impressionable teenage prodigy when it first appeared. He threw the line about preferring to throw his work into the fire at Strauss himself once - it won his battle, whatever it was (there were many). There you go.

The Tomcat is justifiably proud of his great-granddad's pal. In this household, one can't help remembering the family legend about the time they all went out to dinner in Bavaria and Mrs Strauss threw a tantrum when her choice of main course was not available and the waiter offered her an alternative of char (in German, Saibling, a kind of trout): "I don't want that bloody fish!" she shouted.