October 25th, December 20th and December 26th 2013
Primadonna / Ariadne - Camilla Nylund
Zerbinetta - Brenda Rae
Der Tenor / Bacchus - Michael König
Der Komponist - Claudia Mahnke
Najade - Elizabeth Reiter
Dryade - Katharina Magiera
Echo - Maren Favela
Harlekin - Daniel Schmutzhard
Scaramuccio - Michael McCown
Truffaldin - Alfred Reiter
Brighella - Martin Mitterrutzner
Ein Tanzmeister - Peter Marsh
Ein Musiklehrer - Franz Grundheber / Johannes Martin Kränzle
Ein Lakai - Kihwan Sim
Ein Perückenmacher - Vuyani Mlinde
Ein Offizier - Ricardo Iturra
Ein Haushofmeister - William Relton
Conductor - Sebastian Weigle / Hartmut Keil
Director - Brigitte Fassbaender
Stage and costumes - Johannes Leiacker
One of the most telling images in Brigitte Fassbaender's delightfully satisfying and lovingly directed production of Ariadne auf Naxos at the Frankfurt Opera comes as the curtain comes down and the cast raise their glasses to Der Komponist (Claudia Mahnke).
After two-and-a-half hours of fierce ego-battles -- between the Primadonna and Der Tenor, the warring factions of Commedia dell'Arte and Opera Seria troupes and the clash between art (the performers) and commerce (the richest man in Vienna and his guests) -- it is to music that all lift their glasses in the end.
Music triumphs over all and, in the same way, Fassbaender's wise and witty new staging, never crude or vulgar, pays a deeply affectionate tribute to Strauss the composer.
Unlike many singers-turned-directors whose productions never seem to catch life and remain just concert performances in costume, Fassbaender's Personenregie is subtle, lively and meticulously wrought.
After years of performing on the stage herself, she really does know and understand her craft.
Johannes Leiacker's visually entertaining sets, which playfully skew perspective, and costumes are "modern", but Fassbaender's updating of the opera never feels forced or artificial. She is no member of the Regietheater school of directing, but always sticks to the libretto, turning up the sexual innuendo to just the right degree and adding flashes of wry humour.
This is a "traditional" staging in modern clothing and you can really feel Fassbaender's deep love of the score in every scene.
It's also one of the best possible showcases for the huge pool of fresh, young singing talent that Frankfurt Opera currently has at its disposal.
The only guests are Camilla Nylund and Michael König, who both appear here regularly, and of course William Relton in the spoken role of Haushofmeister.
The rest are ensemble members, who know each other and clearly have fun working together. And what a hotbed of new talent Frankfurt is.
Brenda Rae's Zerbinetta is the real thing, every single note in the dazzling coloratura pitch-perfect and sung with an ease and facility that takes your breath away.
At the performance on December 20th, which was being recorded for later release, both Rae and Michael König were said to be suffering from colds.
But you'd never have noticed that from either of them, with no hint of strain in König's bright, ringing tenor, which fills the house so effortlessly.
Camilla Nylund's Ariadne is warm and noble of tone, but she plays with gleeful relish the vain, back-stabbing Primadonna who fights tooth and claw to have more arias than her Bacchus.
Claudia Mahnke is more dramatic and less lyrical than I personally prefer as Komponist, but she is quite rightly one of the house favourites for Frankfurt audiences, as is Johannes Martin Kränzle whose superbly characterized Musiklehrer is also one of the highlights of this Ariadne.
It would be unfair to single out any one of the Commedia dell'Arte quartet, but Daniel Schmutzhard and Martin Mitterrutzner must be among the most promising young singers in the Frankfurt stable at the moment.
I also hope and predict great things of Katharina Magiera with her very distinctive contralto.
If I'm totally honest, I've always felt GMD Sebastian Weigle -- who can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes or ears of Frankfurt audiences -- to be somewhat over-rated.
But he was quietly impressive here, carefully drawing exquisite, top-notch playing from the chamber-sized house orchestra. And in the performance on December 26th, he even achieved the impossible: the audience did not (!) applaud prematurely at the end of Zerbinetta's Grossmächtige Prinzessin.
So hats off to him for that.
This Ariadne really shows Oper Frankfurt off at its best.