The crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic has been especially serious in the performing arts, and although long-running festivals have passed through many problematic periods, none was of this size, or as unexpected as this. After examining various scenarios, the Festival della Valle d’Itria was able to adapt to the new situation and set up an emergency programme, designed around the myth of Ariadne; at the core of it were Richard Strauss' Le bourgeois gentilhomme and Ariadne auf Naxos.

Carmela Remigio (Primadonna)
© Clarissa Lapollaph

Born from the collaboration between Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal in the aftermath of Der Rosenkavalier, they were originally presented together. Later they were divided into two different pieces and executed separately. Ariadne auf Naxos exists in two versions: the first, in 1912, and then a final version in Vienna in 1916. In Martina Franca we saw the former, in a rhythmic Italian version by Quirino Principe.

Ariadne is a relatively short on-act opera with a prologue. The preamble is set in the house of a rich Viennese parvenu (modelled on Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain), who is patronising the opera, which should be presented after dinner, followed by a farce of an Italian Commedia dell’Arte troupe, led by Zerbinetta, and fireworks. Surprisingly, the host decides that the two performances must be given simultaneously, and the comedians decide to improvise their insertions in the story of Ariadne.

Di Lieto (Truffaldino), Prato (Harlequin), Jessica Pratt (Zerbinetta), Solodkyy (Scaramuccio)
© Clarissa Lapollaph

Director Walter Pagliaro bases his staging on the contrast of personality between Ariadne and Zerbinetta. At the centre of the stage, a cube represents a cave, a sort of cocoon where Ariadne cuddles her bruised ego. She falls asleep and dreams of the characters of the Comedy of Arts. Zerbinetta and her friends, with their lively “Italian way” to communicate, help Ariadne through the grief.

It is a masterpiece combining great music and great theatre, indeed: Strauss and Hofmannsthal wrote a play within a play where the Greek myth and the Italian farce intertwine, combining words and facts apparently incompatible. Strauss showcases here his command of the different styles of opera, along with his compositional mastery reproducing (or parodying) both genres.

Mariam Battistelli (Echo), Ana Victória Pitts (Dryad), Barbara Massaro (Naiad)
© Clarissa Lapollaph

The singers were all perfectly at ease: the two female voices of Ariadne and Zerbinetta shone especially bright. Carmela Remigio sang and played the title role perfectly. She has a splendid lyrical soprano voice, powerful, expressive, of great impact and with a beautiful timbre, to which she occasionally added an aristocratic, somehow solipsistic detachment, as required by the character.

In the role of Zerbinetta, Jessica Pratt showed a light but powerful baroque flair: her classic, virtuosic aria, “Großmächtige Prinzessin”, is perhaps the most valuable piece of the opera, and she rendered it confidently, deserving all the minutes of applause she received.

Carmela Remigio (Primadonna) and Piero Pretti (Bacchus)
© Clarissa Lapollaph

Piero Pretti managed Bacchus’ demanding tessitura with ease. The nymphs, Barbara Massaro (Naiad), Ana Victoria Pitts (Dryad) and Mariam Battistelli (Echo) sang the trio “Ein schönes Wunder” with grace and depth and Vittorio Prato’s baritone was solid and elegant. The maschere (Vassily Solodkyy, Eugenio Di Lieto, Manuel Amati) gave an appealing performance too.  

Fabio Luisi’s conducting of the Orchestra del Teatro Petruzzelli di Bari was profound and sophisticated, as he distilled every single emotion from the score with his usual stylish allure.