Opera review: Scottish Opera - Ariadne auf Naxos, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

There was an air of anticipation at the premiere of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos after a two-day delay due to smoke in the theatre from a nearby fire. But while there was much to enjoy in Scottish Opera's co-production with Investec Opera Holland Park, the performance as a whole never quite gelled.

Soprano Julia Sporsen in Ariadne auf Naxos
Soprano Julia Sporsen in Ariadne auf Naxos

Scottish Opera: Ariadne auf Naxos, Theatre Royal, Glasgow ***

This is partly because Strauss’ revised version is flawed and uneven. Director and designer Antony McDonald sets the fast-paced prologue behind the scenes of a Glasgow party as the after-dinner entertainment – an opera company and burlesque act – eyeball each other. Neither troupe is happy when the party planner (Eleanor Bron) says they’ll have to perform together to meet the firework deadline.

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Soprano Julia Sporsén was convincing as the affronted composer, her moving scenes with Zerbinetta – Jennifer France channeling Dita Von Teese – a highlight. Dancing around them was an array of colourful characters including Sir Thomas Allen (composition professor) and Jamie MacDougall (producer) who would’ve enlivened part two, the opera.

In this lengthy act Mardi Byers as the morose Ariadne, attended by three women in gorgeous Vogue-like dresses, made heavy weather of things. The only levity was from France – who delivered her thrilling acrobatic aria while also doing a striptease – and tenor Kor-Jan Dusseljee as Bacchus. He entices Ariadne from her cave in a beautifully poignant love duet, followed by fireworks.

Conductor Brad Cohen presided over an impressive account of Strauss’ sumptuous music with a smaller than usual ensemble – extra brass and woodwind, fewer strings and glittering percussion.