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On the evening of Wednesday June 11, 2003, I attended a Boston Early Music Festival performance of Conradi’s Ariadne.  The opera was first performed in Hamburg in 1691.  Before the performances this week in Boston, the opera was last performed in 1722.  It is the only of Conradi’s operas to have survived.  He was a German composer who was music director of the opera in Hamburg from 1690 to 1694.

The libretto by Christian Heinrich Postel tells the story of Ariadne, who helps Theseus to escape from the labyrinth in Crete after killing the Minotaur.  Theseus had feigned love for her so as to obtain her help, but he was in love with Ariadne’s sister Phaedra.  Ariadne was being wooed by Evanthes, who in this opera is Bacchus in disguise.  After the characters leave Crete, Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus on an island, where Evanthes reveals to her that he is the god Bacchus.  Ariadne renounces Theseus and professes her love for Bacchus.

I thought that the libretto was very interesting dramatically, with well developed characters.  According to Paul O’Dette’s program notes, Postel was “considered by at least one prominent literary scholar to have been the finest of all German librettists, including Wagner!”

The music has arias, duos, and trios, and recitative, much of it “accompanied” rather than “secco.”  The arias resemble those in Italian opera of the time.  There is also some dance music in the French style, and some music for comic relief that draws upon German folk tradition.

The costumes, in seventeenth-century style, were sumptuous and attractive.  The sets consisted of receding columns and backdrops, and were a pleasure to see, sometimes quite colorful.

Ellen Hargis, as Ariadne’s mother Pasiphae, was the most satisfactory member of the cast.  Her voice is pleasant and was always clearly audible.  She fully communicated the words and their meaning.  I had thought that she was under-utilized until she sang an impressive revenge aria in the last act.

Dorothee Mields as Ariadne’s sister Phaedra was also quite good.  Some of her hand and arm gestures during at least one aria seemed unnecessary, but I imagine that she was doing as she was told.

As to the other singers, I would say that they were doing a good, but not superlative, job of performing difficult and demanding music.

Karina Gauvin was somewhat likeable as Ariadne, but she lacked the star quality that the title role calls for.  It often seemed to me that she was not so much communicating to the audience as she was doing her own thing in the presence of the audience.  I could make out some of the German words in her recitatives, but in her arias I would not have been able to tell what language she was singing.  There were occasionally a few notes that she did not project well.

Matthew White had a lot to sing as Evanthes and Bacchus.  Some of it seemed a little of a strain for his countertenor voice.  I think that many female mezzo-sopranos would have been more to my liking.

Jan Kobow, tenor, as the servant Pamphilius, provided comic relief.   In his scene with the scissors-grinders at the end of Act One, he was the first of the singers to develop a real connection with the audience.

I was happy with the dancers, the chorus, and the orchestra.  On the whole the performance was very enjoyable.   This
Ariadne deserves to be known by a wider audience.--
Die schöne und getreue Ariadne--The Beautiful and Faithful Ariadne

Music by Johann Georg Conradi (d. 1699)
Libretto by Christian Heinrich Postel (1658-1705)

First performed in 1691 at the Theater-am-Gänsemarkt, Hamburg
I attended a performance at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, on the evening of Wednesday June 11, 2003.

Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, Artistic Co-Directors
Drew Minter, Stage Director
Robin Linklater, Designer
Lucy Graham, Choreographer
Anna Watkins, Costume Supervisor
Kathleen Fay, Executive Producer
Abbie H. Katz, Associate Producer
Johann Georg Conradi’s Ariadne

CAST of CHARACTERS, in order of appearance

Ariadne (daughter of Minos and Pasiphae), soprano.... . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Karina Gauvin
Phaedra (another daughter of Minos and Pasiphae), soprano...... . . . Dorothee Mields
Minos (King of Crete), bass……………………...…Bernard Deletré
Evanthes (Bacchus in disguise) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Matthew White
Pasiphae (wife of Minos), soprano…………………. . . . .Ellen Hargis
Theseus (Royal Prince of Athens), tenor…..……….. . . . . . . . . . . Ian Honeyman
Pirithous (his confidant), tenor……………………… . . . .James Ruff
Pamphilius (his comic servant), tenor………………. . . . . . . . . Jan Kobow
Bacchanten (followers of Bacchus) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Kathryn Aaron, Kamala Soparkar,
                    Tyrsa Gawrachynsky, Kirsten Sollek
Bacchus (God of Wine), alto……Matthew White
Venus (Goddess of Love), soprano……………………………Ellen Hargis
Drey Gratien (Three Graces)……………Tyrsa          Gawarchynsky, Michaela Macfarlane,                      Deborah Rentz-Moore
Satyr (follower of Bacchus) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sumner Thompson

Chor der Scheeren-Schleiffer (chorus of scissors-grinders)
Chor des Gefolges (chorus of followers of Bacchus)

6 Baroque Dancers—Tina Cassidy, Caroline Copeland, Carlos Fittante, Susan MacNichol-Guthro, Melinda Sullivan, Kaj Sylegård

&  the 34-member BEMF Ariadne Opera Orchestra
"Conradi's music seldom overwhelms you; it's beguiling in a soft-spoken way. The sweetly lyrical arias never turn cloying, and virtuosic vocal flights convey states of agitation without becoming ostentatious. Conradi's recitatives manifest striking variety and subtle attentiveness to the nuances of the German text."--Anthony Tomassini, June 12, 2003, for the New York Times.
"Among the superb cast, all of them able to declaim while strutting about in museum poses or miming the crazy metaphors of their arias, the voices one would especially wish to encounter again were the dark-hued soprano of Karina Gauvin (Ariadne), the higher-flying, inventively ornamented instrument of Ellen Hargis (Pasiphaë and Venus) and the thrillingly colored countertenor of Matthew White (Evanthes and Bacchus).  James Ruff made a surprisingly vivid showing in the throw-away part of Pirithous and Dorothee Mields raised some excitement as the unsisterly Phaedra.  As the everyman, Pamphilius, Jan Kobow sang as well as he clowned and, in character, demanded (and got) more applause."--from review by John Yohalem in Opera News of September 2003.
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Bacchus and Ariadne
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Recording of Conradi's Ariadne

In summer 2004 "many of the participants [in the 2003 Boston Music Festival
Ariadne performances] reassembled in the studios of Radio Bremen in Germany to record the work.

* * *

". . . Radio Bremen gave them two weeks to record, and cpo and the West German Radio in Cologne came on board for the co-production.

* * *

"Nine members of the original BEMF orchestra participated in the recording, as did most of the principal singers.  German instrumentalists and a local chorus filled the gaps. . . . Soprano Barbara Borden performed a heroic rescue operation when Dorothee Mields became ill just before the sessions."
--from article by Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe of June 17, 2005