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Ariadne Auf Naxos

In German with English Captions

Long Story Short

Tonight we attempt to answer the age-old question: what happens when comedy and tragedy are forced to share the same stage?

Who's Who?

The Composer is an idealistic, impatient, emotional young genius who deplores the frivolity and vulgarity of the world. Since he is very young, he is played by a woman.

The Music Master, his teacher, is older, wiser, and much more practical.

The Major-Domo is a pompous butler who couldn’t care less about art or music. Because he’s supposed to be tone-deaf, he is played by an actor.

The Dancing Master is a sly producer of silly Italian comedies.

Zerbinetta is a sexy, flirtatious young actress who stars in the Dancing Master’s shows.

The Soprano is an obnoxious prima donna who plays Ariadne, an ancient Greek princess whose lover abandoned her, in the Composer’s opera.

The Tenor is an overweight clod who plays Bacchus, the god of wine, in the Composer’s opera.

Harlequin is a likeable, lovesick young clown.

The Nymphs are Ariadne’s only companions in her exile upon Naxos; they are Naiad, a water spirit, Dryad, a forest spirit, and Echo, a…well, an echo.

The Comics perform with Zerbinetta and Harlekin; their names are Brighella, Scaramuccio, and Truffaldino.

Where and When?

The Prologue to this opera within an opera takes place in a mansion in eighteenth-century Vienna; the opera itself takes place on (a stage in the mansion representing) the island of Naxos, from Greek myth.

What's Going On?

The wealthiest man in eighteenth-century Vienna, eager to dazzle his friends and neighbors and show off his vast wealth, is having a party. The invitation promised a glorious feast, the premiere of an serious opera on the Greek myth of Ariadne (written by the hotshot young composer that all Vienna is talking about), and a hilarious skit about “Fickle Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers.” But the real climax of the evening—according to the Major-Domo, at least—will be fireworks, in the garden at dusk!

No one dared tell the Composer that the antics of a troupe of Italian clowns would follow the unveiling of his masterpiece, and when he finds out he is livid. But matters grow worse as the dinner drags on, and the Major-Domo announces that, in order to make up the time, the comedians and tragedians must combine their shows; they are both to appear on the same stage at the same time, and must perform ALL their music and text if they hope to be paid. Upon hearing this, the Composer is ready to kill himself, or at least to walk away forever from the rich cretin who could so desecrate his sacred art. Zerbinetta, however, saves the day (and her paycheck) by flirting with the Composer and seducing him into staying.

The resulting mish-mash of a performance veers back and forth between comedy and tragedy. Ariadne, who has been abandoned on an island by her faithless lover, Theseus, longs for death; Zerbinetta and her friends, who evidently inhabit this deserted island, attempt to cheer her up. But she is inconsolable—at least until the young god Bacchus stops by. Bacchus and Ariadne slowly discover each other’s identity; they fall in love, and the magic of their love transforms them both. Zerbinetta shrugs and says, “Just as I said, all she needed was a new man!”

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Photo Credit

© Seattle Opera photo