Ariadne auf Naxos Synopsis

The Story of Strauss' Comic Opera

Ariadne auf Naxos at Hamburgische Staatsoper 2012
Monika Rittershaus/Wikimedia Commons

Composer: Richard Strauss

Premiered: December 5, 1912 - Zurich

Setting of Ariadne auf Naxos

Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos takes place in 18th century Vienna.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Prologue

In the home of the "richest man in Vienna" two groups of musicians are preparing for their respective performances immediately following the night's dinner. One group of musicians consists of opera singers employed to perform a very serious opera, "Ariadne auf Naxos." The other group consists of comedians scheduled to perform and Italian comedy. The major-domo arrives to announce the line up of events: the opera, then the comedy, and then fireworks in the garden. Protests are made by the opera composer's music master, but the major-domo is unmoved and leaves. The composer enters the room hoping for one last rehearsal. Unfortunately, many of the musicians are still providing music for the evening's dinner. The composer becomes outraged. Suddenly, the opera's tenor bursts out of his dressing room followed by the wigmaker and the two continue their shouting match. Meanwhile, the opera's prima donna complains about the comedy troupe's leading lady, Zerbinetta. To add to the tumultuous circumstances, the major-domo rushes into the room and announces that dinner has ran long. Both opera and comedy are to be performed simultaneously in order for the fireworks display to begin on time.

The performers huddle into groups to figure out how to pull of this great feat. The young composer is wary and hesitant to make any changes to his score. However, the music master encourages him to make the changes - after all, if he doesn't perform as needed, he will not earn his wages. The composer agrees and begins to craft changes to his score. As he makes his changes, Zerbinetta and the prima donna berate and pester him into abridging the others' parts. Zerbinetta returns to her group and fills them in on the opera's plot. According to her, Ariadne auf Naxos has just lost her lover, Theseus. Having no hope left, Ariadne concedes to death. Zerbinetta thinks that Ariadne needs a new lover instead, and flirts with the composer until he agrees to make the changes she proposes. He quickly writes in the new ending to his opera and the comedians take their places on stage. When his adrenaline finally wears off, he immediately regrets what he has agreed to do. Blaming his music master for convincing him to make changes to his opera, he rushes out of the room in horror.

Ariadne auf Naxos, The Performance

Ariadne, the prima donna, wallows in a cave on the island of Naxos, having lost her lover Theseus. She mourns him deeply, stating that death will be her only comfort. Zerbinetta and her lackeys await in the wings. One by one, each of Zerbinetta's men attempt to cheer up Ariadne. With each attempt, Ariadne becomes further entranced by her wish for death, singing that Hermes will take her to Sheol where she will be free from the burdens and sorrows of this world. (Learn the lyrics to "Es gibt ein Reich.") Finally, Zerbinetta, with great coloratura flair, tells her that the only way to get over love lost is to simply find a new love. Ariadne is offended by Zerbinetta's advice and leaves. One by one, Zerbinetta's men return to the abandoned cave, each attempting to win her love and attention.

The three nymphs, Naiad, Dryad, and Echo, announce that a ship is approaching the island, and with it, comes a stranger. Ariadne thinks that Hermes finally has come to deliver her, but instead, it is the god Bacchus who has escaped from the sorceress, Circe. When he finally reaches the island, Ariadne rushes to greet him. When she spots him on the shore, she mistakes his figure for Theseus. When face to face, she realizes it is not him. Bacchus declares his godliness and the two fall immediately in love. Telling her he'd rather see the stars in the sky fall rather than losing her love, he promises her an eternity with him among the constellations. Ariadne is enthralled by his countenance and agrees to her new life with him. As the two descend into the sky, Zerbinetta returns to announce her philosophy on love was correct all along.

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