Opera Holland Park has produced a triumph. Ariadne auf Naxos is the final offering of its summer season. The City of London Sinfonia plays exquisitely under the baton of Brad Cohen enjoying all the lush textures of Strauss’s delicious score. And we get not one, but three, stars – all of them female.
The first is Julia Sporsen who dominates the first half as the composer of an opera to be performed at the party of the richest man in Scotland (it’s a co-production with Scottish Opera). She plays the role as a real woman (rather than a woman playing a man as Strauss originally had it). Devoted to her art, she is therefore horrified when she is told (by Eleanor Bron with a strong Scottish accent) that the evening will also include by a troupe of clowns led by the burlesque dancer Zerbinetta. Barely has she recovered from this outrage than Eleanor Bron returns to announce the opera must be adapted so they can all share the stage at the same time.
This first half, the Prologue, is sung (or spoken) in English and has been wittily updated. But for the second half, the performance of Ariadne itself, it’s back to the original German. And what a performance it is. Mardi Byers (star number two), who appeared briefly as the prima donna earlier, is now Ariadne and sings movingly and thrillingly first grieving for her fickle lover Theseus, then falling for the new arrival on her island, Bacchus (Kor-Jan Dusseljee on fine form). She is attended by a trio of nymphs (Elizabeth Cragg, Laura Zigmantaite and Lucy Hall) who sing exquisitely and have equally exquisite costumes (designed by the director Antony McDonald).
And then there’s the third star, Jennifer France as Zerbinetta, who quite simply steals the show. Kitted out initially as Marlene Dietrich (top hat and all) she stripteases down to sequinned burlesque while singing her 12-minute showpiece aria, ‘Grossmachtige Prinzessin’. France is sensational, musically and theatrically, and it comes as no surprise that she turns the head of the composer (same sex frisson alert). Zerbinetta is accompanied by a troupe of acrobats and magicians (Alex Otterburn, Daniel Norman, Lancelot Nomura and Elgan Llyr Thomas) who under the training of circus skills trainer Joe Dieffenbacher have mastered quite a few jaw-dropping tricks. This can be a difficult opera to get right but Antony McDonald has turned in a truly superb interpretation, fine tuned musically and theatrically as light as a soufflé.
Ariadne auf Naxos at Opera Holland Park until 27 July 2018. For more information please call the Box office 0300 999 1000 or visit the website. Production images by Ali Wright.