Ariadne auf Naxos - Synopsis
What can be more exciting than the premiere of your new opera? Well, for the young eager and nameless Viennese composer who is the protagonist of the opera Ariadne auf Naxos, quite a few things went wrong in this most exciting day which ended, however, with a discovery and a recognition much more noble and exciting than artistic success.
Our gallant youth has just finished writing the opera Ariadne auf Naxos, a composition commissioned by a nouveau riche Viennese who organizes a special
artistic evening in his home. Before the curtain is about to rise on the opera, the music-master of the young composer finds out to his amazement that immediately after the opera seria his student composed the guests will enjoy an operetta, a light Italianized buffo comic divertissement called The Faithless Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers. While the music-master tries to object, the major-domo of the rich so called patron of the arts adamantly explains that only the master of the house, who after all paid for these works, is allowed to determine the order of events that evening. The young composer arrives and is amazed that the orchestra musicians are not ready for a final rehearsal 15 minutes before the curtain rises, as they are playing for the enjoyment of the guests who are at dinner. The tenor, who stars in the new opera, quarrels with the wigmaker and soon enough enters the soprano as well who is far from pleased to discover Zerbinetta in the house. The composer however, has already noticed the enchanting young actress and is slowly but surely being consumed by her presence.
The music-master tries to calm down the distraught composer while Zerbinetta, the lead actress of the comedy troupe, is laughing with her dancing-master at the solemn boring opera and looks forward to her own personal success that very evening. But suddenly new orders arrive from the master of the house through his major-domo. In order to shorten what seems like a too long artistic program, and so that the concluding firework display is not too late, he decided that the opera and the divertissement will be performed simultaneously. Havoc arouses. The composer believes that the world has reached its end and he is about to immediately withdraw his work and disappear, but it is the dancing-master who saves the day. He suggests cutting the opera slightly and weaving the comic ballet as an interlude within the opera, especially as Zerbinetta is brilliant at improvising with her four partners. Reluctantly the music master agrees and also manages to persuade also the composer, otherwise his new opera will not be heard at all. After all, there is nothing wrong with a little improvisation in life. The composer finally succumbs not necessarily to common sense and words of reason, if there are any within this situation, but to the whole engulfing sensual beauty of Zerbinetta, with whom he is infatuated.
The curtain rises on the opera Ariadne auf Naxos, which is based on a Greek legend. Ariadne, lying alone outside a cave on the solitary island of Naxos, bemoans her fate as Theseus, whose life she once saved and with whom she spent a happy time on the island, has deserted her. Her sufferings are enormous and the three nymphs Naiad, Dryad and Echo, share her predicament. As she awakens from her troubled dreams, she has one goal only and that is to die. So she awaits the arrival of Hermes, the messenger of death, to take her with him. But instead of Hermes it is Zerbinetta and her suitors/partners, Harlequin, Scaramuccio, Truffaldino and Brighella, who arrive on the island, trying to raise the spirits of the lonely woman who is seeking the solace of death. In a lengthy aria Zerbinetta tries to explain to Ariadne that there is no sense whatsoever in either seeking death or remaining faithful to one man. Life is an exciting and too short an adventure and the name of the game is switching lovers, which makes it even more enjoyable. But Ariadne will have none of this buffoonery and she withdraws leaving the stage for Zerbinetta and her commedia partners.
The nymphs announce the arrival of the young god Bacchus, who has just won his first bout of adventures with the sorceress Circe. The heroic god appears and Ariadne takes him for the messenger of death she so yearns for. The god is deeply moved by the beauty of the sorrowful mortal and awakens her to new life through the miracle of the love. Zerbinetta is obviously pleased with the outcome as it proves the point she made in a most elaborate way a few minutes earlier. Ariadne and Bacchus remain alone singing the praises of love.