About this Recording
8.111033-34 - STRAUSS, R: Ariadne auf Naxos (Schwarzkopf, Streich, Karajan) (1954)
English 

Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos

In 1942 Richard Strauss, then approaching his eightieth birthday, recalled that the original intention behind Ariadne auf Naxos was as a grateful offering to the theatre director Max Reinhardt (1873-1943). It was to form an epilogue to a comedy by Molière, Le bourgeois gentilhomme. The original concept had been a half-hour long opera for a small chamber orchestra. This was later expanded to the play, which Hofmannsthal had reduced from five acts to two, followed by a ballet concluding with a commedia dell’arte. The resulting première took place at the Kleines Haus of the Hoftheater in Stuttgart on 25th October 1912 under the composer. The reception was decidedly mixed, with the audience obviously unhappy with the excess of spoken dialogue in the Molière play to which Strauss had added incidental music, and with only a single act of total music. The performance of this version was both costly and ineffective in that a double cast of actors and singers was involved.

In July 1916 composer and librettist decided to recast Ariadne by prefacing the revised version with a Prologue of some forty minutes which explained the circumstances in which an eighteenth-century opera seria came to be performed simultaneously with its comic interlude. They also omitted the spoken play altogether, and removed the character of Monsieur Jourdain, transfering the setting from Paris to Vienna. The resulting work is an opera of considerable sophisticated lyrical charm, Strauss continuing to write in his Mozartian manner that he had first used so successfully in Der Rosenkavalier in 1911. Furthermore, in the Prologue the composer displays some of his idea about music and drama that would come to culmination in Capriccio in 1942.

This version was first heard in the Court Theatre in Vienna on 4th October 1916 under Franz Schalk (1863- 1931) and is the form in which the opera is now almost invariably performed. The original incidental music was used for Hofmansthal’s adaptation of the Molière original in a production in Berlin in April 1918. Later Strauss made a nine-movement concert suite Der Bürger als Edelmann, which was first heard in Vienna in January 1920 under the composer’s direction.

Following the première of Salome in Dresden in December 1905, Strauss, now having reached early middle age, became increasingly an operatic soprano’s composer. From this date on the operas become dominated by a female character, so that the composer displays the psychology, feelings and failings like a husband who is fully inside his wife’s many-sided mind. In Ariadne the three principal female rôles of The Composer (a travesti rôle), Ariadne and Zerbinetta are three such examples in a single work.

The revised score of Part One is a series of brief scenes involving the opera seria singers and the commedia dell’arte characters, the Composer and members of the household of the nobleman who has commissioned the new opera seria. Part Two contains Ariadne’s first Monologue in which she recalls her love for Theseus (Ein Schönes war), followed by the Harlequin’s Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen. Ariadne, in her second Monologue, meditates on the kingdom of death which she longs to enter (Es gibt ein Reich), contrasted by a vocal quartet from the comedians (Die Dame gibt mit trüben Sinn). Then follows Zerbinetta’s long and extremely difficult coloratura recitative, aria and rondo finale (Großmächtige Prinzessin), and eventually the opera ends with the long extended love duet between Ariadne and Bacchus (Du schönes Wesen … Bin ich ein Gott), concluding with their ascent into the sky together.

This recording of Ariadne auf Naxos was the first to be made in the studio (an earlier one, made live in Vienna in June 1944, commemorated the composer’s eightieth birthday). This studio one, made in London only five years after Strauss’s death in 1949, is significant in that most of the artists had been active during the composer’s later years and some had even met Strauss in the last ten years of his life. Thus it has a particular historic feel. Masterminded by EMI recording producer and impresario Walter Legge (1906-1979) it contained some of the finest singers of the day and used Legge’s own orchestra, the Philharmonia. The Gramophone magazine, when first reviewing the recording in October 1955, thought “the opera is perfectly cast, magnificently performed, and very well recorded”. The orchestra was praised for its brilliance, while the singers were also judiciously commented upon. “Schwarzkopf brings the dark tone that is needed for Ariadne’s sorrows, and all the rapture called for at the end”. As the Composer Irmgard Seefried was thought to display great variety of tone, the Zerbinetta of Rita Streich displayed no technical difficulties whatsoever, and the Bacchus of Rudolf Schock sang “with heroic tone and sufficient nuance to make one believe in the youthful god”. Of Karajan “his genius has never been more apparent in the [Bacchus-Ariadne] scene”.

The Austrian-born conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) studied first in Salzburg and then in Vienna under Franz Schalk. He made his début in Ulm in 1929 and remained there for five years, moving to Aachen between 1935-37. A much-praised Berlin début conducting Tristan und Isolde led to his international career. Banned from conducting in public from 1945 to 1947, he made his first London appearance in 1948 and became a regular visitor for the next decade, appearing increasingly with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Karajan was appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955 and continued until his death. He also appeared during the same period both in Vienna and at the Salzburg Festival in July and August in addition to the Salzburg Easter Festival that he inaugurated in 1967, so that his prestige and influence were enormous. He became the most significant conductor during the second half of the twentieth century. In addition Karajan also conducted at La Scala in Milan and appeared in Japan. He left a large number of filmed recordings of his conducting. As an interpreter, he is thought to have made more recordings than any other classical musician during his career.

The rôle of Ariadne is sung by the German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (b. 1915). She studied at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik and later with the soprano Maria Ivogün, making her début as one of the Flowermaidens in Parsifal with the Städtische Oper, Berlin, in 1938. Originally a lyrical soprano she undertook rôles such as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Musetta in La Bohème and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos when she joined the Vienna State Opera under Karl Böhm in 1943. Her first overseas appearance was with this company on their visit to London in 1947 when she sang Donna Elvira, and Marzelline in Fidelio. She then joined the fledgling Covent Garden Company, where for five seasons she sang a variety of rôles, mostly in English. Alongside these appearances, Schwarzkopf sang at the Salzburg Festival (1946-1964), La Scala, Milan (1948-1963), San Francisco (1955- 1964) and, finally, the Metropolitan in New York in 1964. She was greatly admired in the rôles of the Marschallin, Fiordiligi, the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro and Donna Elvira. She also had a distinguished parallel career as a Lieder singer in the concert hall. She was the wife of the impresario and recording producer Walter Legge, whom she married in 1953.

The rôle of Bacchus is sung by German tenor Rudolf Schock (1915-1986). He was born in Duisburg and studied singing in Cologne and Hanover. His stage début was at Brunswick in 1937 but his singing career was interrupted by five years of military service. In 1946 the Staatsoper in both Berlin and Hamburg engaged him, and he remained with the latter until 1956. His Salzburg Festival début was in 1948, followed by two seasons at Covent Garden (1949-50), where his rôles included Rodolfo (La Bohème), Alfredo (La traviata), Tamino, Pinkerton, and The Olympians (Bliss). In 1951 he joined the Vienna State Opera and the following year sang at the Edinburgh Festival. His Bayreuth début was as Walther von Stolzing in 1959, a rôle he had earlier recorded with Rudolf Kempe. His later career was most successful in operetta, television and film. He recorded prolifically over a period of almost thirty years, including Lohengrin, Erik in Der fliegende Holländer, and Max in Der Freischütz, in addition to operettas by Johann Strauss and Lehár, Lieder and popular song. He was generally considered the successor to Richard Tauber.

The soprano Irmgard Seefried (1919-1988) was born in Köngetried, near Mindelheim, in Bavaria. Her first music lessons were from her father and at the age of eleven, three years after her first public appearance, she sang Gretel in Humperdinck’s opera. Later she studied at the Augsburg Conservatory. She was engaged by Karajan at the Aachen Stadttheater as the Priestess in Aida in 1940. In 1943 she made her début at the Vienna State Opera as Eva in Die Meistersinger under Karl Böhm, and remained a member of the company. She sang the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos in a performance to mark Richard Strauss’s eightieth birthday in June 1944. She later appeared at Covent Garden Opera in London in 1947 with the visiting Vienna company, and also in Milan (La Scala, 1949), Salzburg (1946 onwards), and Edinburgh. She made her Metropolitan Opera début in November 1953 as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. Later she appeared in Chicago (1961 and 1964) and Aix-en-Provence (1963). She was married to the violinist Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and died in Vienna in November 1988.

Born of a Russian mother and a German prisonerof- war father, the lyric soprano Rita Streich (1920- 1987) studied with Maria Ivogün, Erna Berger and Willi Domgraf-Fassbänder. She made her début in 1943 at Aussig as Zerbinetta. In 1946 she became a member of the Berlin Staatsoper where her rôles included Blonde in Die Entführung and Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffmann. In the ensuing six years she also sang Zerlina, Gilda, and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. In 1952-53 she appeared as the Woodbird in Siegfried at the Bayreuth Festival, before joining the Staatsoper in Vienna, where she remained a member until her retirement from the stage in 1972. Streich made frequent guest appearances at Munich, however, and in 1954 sang Zerlina and Susanna in London, and at the Salzburg Festival appeared as Ännchen in Der Freischütz. She made her American début in 1957 at San Francisco and appeared in 1960 at the Chicago Lyric Opera. These were her last American opera appearances. Her voice was a small instrument for all its purity and technical control, better suited to a small theatre such as Glyndebourne, where she appeared for the first time in 1958 as Zerbinetta. During the 1950s Streich became well-known on record as Zerbinetta, Sophie, Susanna, Ännchen, Adele in Die Fledermaus, and Blonde, in addition to recordings of songs by Mozart, Schubert, Wolf, Richard Strauss, even Milhaud. Streich retired from the stage in 1972 to teach at Essen, but returned four years later to Vienna, where she continued to teach, dying there at the age of 66. She was the foremost German coloratura of her generation.

In the rôle of Harlequin is the Berlin-born baritone Hermann Prey (1929–1998). He studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and in 1952 he was a prizewinner of Hessischer Rundfunk in Frankfurt. Later that year he made his début as the Second Prisoner in Fidelio in Wiesbaden, soon followed by Monuccio in d’Albert’s Tiefland. Prey soon joined the Hamburg State Opera (1953-1960) and in 1957 sang in Vienna, followed two years later by appearances in Munich. Between 1960 and 1970 in six seasons Prey appeared at the Metropolitan in New York, making his début as Wolfram. In 1965 he first sang at Bayreuth, again as Wolfram, returning as a perceptive Beckmesser in 1981. In 1973 Prey sang Rossini’s Barbiere at Covent Garden and subsequently reappeared as Guglielmo, Papageno and Eisenstein. Although he had sung Verdi parts in his early years, he later concentrated on Mozart and Strauss, singing Olivier (Hamburg 1957), Harlequin (Munich 1960), and Robert Storch (Munich 1960). In 1997 he returned to the Salzburg Festival as Der Sprecher in Die Zauberflöte. In 1988, he directed a production of Le nozze di Figaro at Salzburg. He was also one of the founders of a Schubert Festival in Austria. Prey died in Munich in November 1998.

Karl Dönch (1915-1994) spent virtually all his career as a member of the Staatsoper in Vienna, graduating from the chorus for small rôles, which included Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Melitone in La forza del destino, Faninal in Der Rosenkavalier and Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger. He first sang at the Salzburg Festival in 1951 and later appeared in Berlin and Buenos Aires.

The Czech-born but later naturalised British baritone Otakar Kraus (1909-1980) was born in Prague, and studied with Konrad Wallerstein before moving to Fernando Carpi in Milan, making his début as Amonasro in Brno in 1935. He was a member of the Bratislava Opera from 1936 to 1939 but with the outbreak of the Second World War Kraus eventually came to Britain, later joining the touring Carl Rosa Company in 1940. As a member of the newly formed English Opera Group in 1946, he created Tarquinius in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne, later taking the rôle of the Vicar in Albert Herring, and Lockit in Britten’s realisation of The Beggar’s Opera. He joined Netherlands Opera for the 1950-51 season in addition to creating the rôle of Nick Shadow in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in Venice later that year. This was followed by 22 years as a member of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He sang Alberich in The Ring at Bayreuth between 1960 and 1962. Whilst not endowed with the greatest of voices, Kraus was a superb singing actor who was greatly admired for his make-up skills. He retired in 1973 to teach.

The German tenor Gerhard Unger (b. 1916) hails from Bad Salzungen but studied at the College of Music in Berlin. His début was delayed by the war until 1945 when he began as a recitalist and oratorio singer, but in 1947 he sang at the National Theatre, Weimar, where he remained as a member for five years. In 1952 he was engaged by the Berlin State Opera. He was soon appreciated as an interpreter of tenor-buffo parts but also sang Tamino, Alfredo and Pinkerton. He became a member of the Stuttgart State Opera in 1961 and of the Hamburg State Opera from 1962 to 1973. Unger also appeared at the Vienna and Dresden State Operas. He appeared in Bayreuth as David in Die Meistersinger (1951-1952). He also performed regularly at the Salzburg Festival between 1962 and 1978. At Milan’s La Scala Unger sang Jaquino in 1960 and Mime in 1975. He made guest appearances at the Paris Opéra, at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels (1962), at the Marseilles Opera (1955) and in Turin (1970). He sang Mime at the Stuttgart State Theatre in 1987. He was a much admired artist with an engaging stage personality.

The soprano Lisa Otto was born in Dresden in 1919. Educated at that city’s Hochschule für Musik, she made her operatic début as Sophie in 1941 at the Landestheater in Beuthen. During the years 1945-1946 she sang with the Nuremberg Opera but returned to her native city from 1946 to 1951 where she was a member of the Dresden State Opera. In 1952 she joined the Berlin Städtische Oper. From 1953 she also sang in Salzburg, and made tours of the United States, South America, and Japan. She was made a Kammersängerin in 1963. She became best known for her rôles in Mozart’s operas.

The Austrian lyric soprano Anny Felbermayer was born in Vienna in 1924. She had studied in her native city at the Akademie für Musik and later won the Cebotari prize and competitions in Geneva and Verviers. She joined the Vienna State Opera in 1951, continuing there for many years. In addition to appearances at La Scala, Milan and Brussels, she was a regular performer at the Salzburg Festival during the 1950s and 1960s. She possessed an attractive, welltrained voice and displayed an excellent stage presence.

The German tenor Helmut Krebs was born in Aachen in 1913 but moved to Dortmund and later Berlin. His début was as Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte at the Berlin Volksoper in 1937. His career was interrupted by military service and it was not until 1945 that he began again in Düsseldorf. His career concentrated on both opera and the concert hall, where he was a much admired Evangelist in the Bach Passions as well as contributing to the performance of early music. He also sang in Covent Garden, the Hamburg, Munich and Vienna State Operas as well as at Glyndebourne. As recently as May 2002 Helmut Krebs sang his own Oboen-Lieder, Op. 47. In 1966 he became a professor at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt.

The American mezzo-soprano Grace Hoffman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925 and was educated at Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Then she studied voice with Friedrich Schorr in New York and Mario Basiola in Milan. After appearances in the United States, she sang in Florence and Zürich. In 1955 she became a member of the Württemberg State Theatre in Stuttgart. In March 1958 she made her Metropolitan Opera début in New York as Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde. She made many appearances at La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London, Bayreuth, and the Vienna State Opera. She was noted for her performances of the music of Wagner and Verdi, particularly for her rôles of Brangäne, Kundry, and Eboli. She also sang widely in concerts. In 1978 she became professor of voice at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart.

The Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod was born in Corseaux-sur-Vevey in June 1902. He studied at the Ribaupierre Institute in Lausanne, and later at the conservatories in Geneva and Basel, and in Vienna. His career began as a concert singer but in 1928 he made his stage début in Jonny spielt auf in Paris, and in 1929 he sang for the first time in the United States in Noel Coward’s Bitter Sweet. From 1930 to 1933 Cuénod was active in Geneva, and then in Paris from 1934 to 1937 as a member of Nadia Boulanger’s vocal group. From 1940 to 1946 he taught at the Geneva Conservatory but resumed his operatic career, singing in Die Fledermaus in Geneva in 1943. He subsequently appeared at Milan’s La Scala (1951), Glyndebourne (from 1954 for many seasons), and London’s Covent Garden (1954, 1956, 1958). In 1987 he made his first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, singing The Emperor in Puccini’s Turandot at the age of 85. As an interpreter Cuénod has sung virtually everything, from Machaut to Stravinsky. Noted as an outstanding sight-reader, he has always displayed a flair for the unusual, with a recorded legacy of remarkable range from French mélodie through Bach to medieval and Elizabethan song.

Capriccio was Strauss’s last stage work, which he described as a Konversationstück für Musik, collaborating with the conductor Clemens Krauss on the libretto. The work is in essence an opera about an opera. The widowed Countess Madeleine cannot choose between the poet Olivier and the composer Flamand. In the glowing and heart-warming final scene we find the Countess finally deciding on neither: as she remarks, ‘If you choose one, you lose the other’.

Malcolm Walker


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