I was fortunate to attend the opening of the Glimmerglass Festival's production of Ariadne auf Naxos – rather, Ariadne in Naxos – on July 19, and the second performance on July 22. Ariadne auf Naxos can be rather a silly story, and often the comedy is not clear enough. Glimmerglass' new, current-day English version by Kelly Rourke made sense out of an intentionally chaotic Act I. The richest man in Vienna (or Cooperstown?) has arranged for an evening's entertainment to include both a new opera and a popular song and dance troupe. All involved are irate at having both entertainments on the same bill, but they are then instructed to combine the two in the interest of time, so that the patron will be satisfied in seeing both contracts fulfilled. Act II is the combined opera seria with the commedia dell'arte-inspired song and dance act.

Christine Goerke (Prima Donna) © Karli Cadel | Glimmerglass Festival
Christine Goerke (Prima Donna)
© Karli Cadel | Glimmerglass Festival

The usual intended purpose of updating productions to modern-day – to clarify social roles and power structures – is rarely met successfully. Period detail can provide more distraction than clarification. Disregard all that: this production provided insight aplenty and many, many sensory pleasures! Why shouldn't this extravagant entertainment be thrown as part of some house party at one of the many grand estates in New York? New York has an Ithaca, a Syracuse, a Utica – why not a Naxos? Think Rockefeller instead of Esterhazy. I believe in this case the update worked.

The diva behavior of the Prima Donna and the Tenor is timeless. The naive, reckless, idealistic behavior of the Composer is timeless, as well. Making Zerbinetta and her troupe of commedia dell'arte players into a girl singer and her boy-band dancers might be a bit dated already, but that's part of the charm. The Tanzmeister (very well done by John Kapusta) becomes something of a manager for the boy band, and the Musiklehrer (quite well performed by Adam Ciofarri) becomes the Composer's agent.

Taking the pants off the Composer can also make sense. Catherine Martin acted the naive, young, self absorbed Composer quite effectively, and sang quite beautifully. Her biography lists roles much heavier than those associated with women who sing the Composer, so she deserves kudos for successfully negotiating this fiendishly high mezzo role. I liked the directorial touch of having her on stage for much of Act II as well, although her role is usually considered done at the close of Act I.

Christine Goerke (Ariadne) and Corey Bix (Bacchus) © Karli Cadel | Glimmerglass Festival
Christine Goerke (Ariadne) and Corey Bix (Bacchus)
© Karli Cadel | Glimmerglass Festival

When we see the Composer's Very Serious Opera (auf Deutsch, to show just how serious!) juxtaposed with the pop sentiments of Zerbinetta's troupe (in American English), we gain even more of a payoff. In fact, one of the best moments is when the four dancing boys (portrayed with great charm and wit by Carlton Ford, Gerard Michael D'Emilio, Andrew Penning, and Brian Ross Yeakley) revert to German, seeming to mock Ariadne's grief that much more.

Christine Goerke, whom I found vocally ravishing as the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met last spring, was a delight to see and hear as the Prima Donna/Ariadne. Full, luscious tones that were most at home in the huge, soaring phrases of “Es gibt ein Reich” and her final duet with Bacchus. Ms Goerke has a wonderful sense of humor, and seemed to relish in poking fun at the Prima Donna character. I loved her momentary breaks in Ariadne's character to show the Prima Donna's displeasure at the antics of Zerbinetta's troupe. She was accompanied quite ably by Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad and Jacqueline Echols as Echo.

Rachele Gilmore (Zerbinetta) © Karli Cadel | Glimmerglass Festival
Rachele Gilmore (Zerbinetta)
© Karli Cadel | Glimmerglass Festival

As Zerbinetta, Rachele Gilmore brought a sound that grew in beauty through the evening, so that her showpiece aria in Act II was not only a delight, but an almost explosive joy! Tiny and beautiful, this young woman made the most out of Zerbinetta's earthy yet idealistic sentiments, while also controlling the four dancing boys and captivating the attentions of the young Composer.

Corey Bix sang the brief but demanding role of Bacchus in glorious, unforced tones. Musical theater veteran Wynn Harmon, a staple of the Glimmerglass stage, was delightfully arrogant and pretentious as the Manager of the Estate. Carlton Ford's Harlequin was charming and self absorbed, and Mr Ford's singing was lovely to hear.

I have to praise the creative team in the highest terms. Director Francesca Zambello, scenic designer Troy Hourie, costume designer Eric Teague, lighting designer Mark McCullough, choreographer Eric Sean Fogel – their work was simply stunning.

Conductor Kathleen Kelly brought everything together quite beautifully. All the praise I had for the opening night should doubled for the second performance, when everyone on stage and in the pit sounded even more comfortable and the singing was even more glorious. I highly recommend catching this Glimmerglass show.