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