RICHARD STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos – which recording should you buy?

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Hugo Shirley listens to the available recordings of Strauss’s opera and recommends his favourite

The original Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), a chamber opera appended to a reworking of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme, was not a success. Reluctantly, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal decided to embark upon a reworking of their bold experiment. The Molière went, and with it Strauss’s delicious incidental music. It was replaced by an ingenious, much shorter prologue set in the house of the ‘richest man in Vienna’ (instead of that of Molière’s merely nouveau riche Monsieur Jourdain) and explaining the reasons for the all-important collision of high tragedy and commedia dell’arte in the opera. That opera now took up the bulk of the evening, the multiple self-reflective levels allowed to melt away rather than being reinforced as they had been in 1912 – ‘Irony and comedy’, as Michael Kennedy has put it, ‘were replaced by rapture.’

The new version was unveiled in (appropriately enough) Vienna in 1916 and has become one of the ...

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