Ariadne auf Naxos
Janowitz, Gruberová, Baltsa; King, Zednik, McDaniel, Berry, Kunz; Vienna State Opera; Böhm. No libretto. Orfeo 817 1121 (2)
Orfeo's continuing releases of live Salzburg and Vienna performances offers a winner in this Staatsoper Ariadne of November 20, 1976. Karl Böhm, eighty-two at the time of this performance, led a gleaming, fast-paced and amusing traversal, with a top-notch cast, of the magnificent score he had led at the Salzburg celebration of the eightieth birthday of his friend and colleague Richard Strauss. More emotional readings of Ariadne's "opera" portion are possible — as witness Rudolf Kempe's dreamlike 1969 studio set, which like this one features stalwarts Gundula Janowitz and James King in the leading roles. But Böhm's work reflects mastery and long experience: this issue, if not so satisfying as Böhm's own 1944 live performance from Vienna, belongs at least near the exalted company of "essential" performances of this beguiling nonpareilwork and would certainly please anyone searching for a first "live" or second general Ariadne.
Most of Böhm's starry singers here did record the work in the studio. The game, idiomatic Harlekin of American baritone Barry McDaniel is the main assumption this set makes available. Agnes Baltsa's enthusiastic Komponist — caught more than a decade earlier than her DG studio performance under James Levine — reveals both the stunning beauty of her youthful mezzo at relaxed dynamic levels and the effects of the overdrive (chest voice carried way too high, with churny if exciting results) to which she was already submitting it. Janowitz, rather blank as the Prologue's Prima Donna, provides both fluty tonal beauty and the sound of "a galleon at full sail" (to recall Joseph Wechsberg's memorable phrase) as Ariadne, although she does, as was often the case, flatten high notes. King, then fifty-one, sounds magnificent, even more sonorous and detailed once Bacchus comes fully onstage. Walter Berry capably holds up his end as a warm Music Master. Edita Gruberová's Zerbinetta may divide opinion, as she did in her initial Met appearances in this role in 1979; technically, she dispatches the difficult music with staggering ease, as on her 1977–78 commercial set for Solti, where I find her timbre more consistently attractive. Gruberová makes the more intimate passages only somewhat affecting, but no one would be less than excited to encounter this Zerbinetta live.
The additional casting calls on Viennese mainstays, some veterans and some future occupants of leading roles. Erich Kunz, Böhm's 1944 Harlekin and a Met Leporello, Figaro and Beckmesser in the early 1950s, here decades on makes an echt Viennese snob of a Major-domo — one of the funniest on records. Having stellar light tenors Gerhard Unger as Brighella and Kurt Equiluz as Scaramuccio seems luxurious; Heinz Zednik makes a mettlesome but dryish Dance Master . Hilde de Groote (Naiade) and future Met Adina Sona Ghazarian (Echo) back Janowitz up with class. Only Axelle Gall's Dryade and Manfred Jungwirth's Truffaldin sound less then front-line, though neither of them is bad.