Great things are now expected from the acclaimed Natalya Romaniw, and in Bruno Ravella’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos for Garsington Opera the warm, golden-voiced soprano delighted. She has enjoyed great success with this glorious opera company in a variety of roles that have demonstrated versatility of singing and acting across genres. Here Romaniw brings her strengths in dramatic and comedic roles into one glittering performance.
The revelation of the opera is the young and quite remarkable tenor Young Woo Kim whose performance was as heroic and frankly awe inspiring as the god Bacchus who sweeps Ariadne off her feet. This is a voice that really must be heard, there is stamina and elegance, and it will be fascinating to see him transfer into large theatres. He has a hypnotic stage presence with a voice rich and full of colour.
Natalya Romaniw and Young Woo Kim. Image: Tristram Kenton
The final section of the opera is breathtakingly beautiful and these two singers move from their own desolation and disappointment to finding life affirmation within one another and, literally, climb to the stars. Their mastery of their vocal art might not make angels cry, but it would certainly bring the Olympian gods to their feet.
Stripped of any fussy staging and props beyond dressing room doors (which are only in the Prologue) a staircase and balcony, this production encourages us to concentrate on the nuances of the drama, the characters’ psychological traumas, the seemingly contrasting concerns of the different lifestyles.
This Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal work requires an excellent third and fourth singer, and here Jennifer France’s sparkling Zerbinetta and Polly Leech’s heartfelt Composer, who only appears in the Prologue, are also in knock-out form. Each also has a delicious and demanding personality-revealing aria that is just as pivotal to the understanding (and our enjoyment) of the performance.
Natalya Romaniw. Image: Craig Fuller
Jennifer France, Natalya Romaniw and Innocent Masuku. Image: Julian Guidera
Ravella and his designer Giles Cadle give us a quite simple set, backstage in the rich patron’s home, where the two opposing forces (the serious opera singers and the life-loving frivolous players) wittily appear from and disappear into dressing room doors as they are preparing for their entertainment.
The Prologue ends with the two contrasting groups reluctantly having to perform not too consecutive works but simultaneously, although one is high drama and the other a frivolous romp.
Jennifer France. Image: Clive Barda
So, the Opera opens with curtains opening on an even simpler set, for a distraught Ariadne and her three gorgeously-voiced nymph attendants deep in despair and then Zerbinetta and her troupe, now in commedia dell’arte players Pierrot makeup and outfits, to try to cheer her up.
Walter van Dyk’s Major Domo and William Dazeley as the splendid Music Master perfectly entered into the spirit of the near pandemonium of the Prologue as the money of the evening’s host determined how art and entertainment would just have to rub along.
Polly Leach and Jennifer France. Image: Clive Barda
In the small and exquisite glass walled Garsington auditorium the players in the Philharmonia Orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth are mesmerising with some solo instrumentalists drawing the audience, rightly, to that section of the ensemble.
The show is also genuinely funny when it needs to be, from the operatic singers in their curlers haughtily aghast at the antics of the earthy players, the principals stealing the dressing room star sign from one another to the jollity in the Opera such as a seagull descending to steal one of the troupe’s ice cream. We are on a desert island after all.
Until July 21.