HIGH-CLASS OPERA. A LOW-RENT COMEDY TROUPE.
Both commissioned by a wealthy patron -- to perform at the same time. Cue the hilarity!
Prologue: The home of Vienna’s richest man.
Backstage, preparations are underway for the performance of a new opera seria, Ariadne auf Naxos, that will serve as dinner entertainment for the rich man’s guests. The major-domo enters and informs the music master that following the opera an Italian comedy will be performed, after which there will be a fireworks display. Outraged, the music master replies that the composer will never tolerate this, but the major-domo is unimpressed by his objections and leaves. When the composer appears, hoping for a last-minute rehearsal, he is informed that the musicians are still playing dinner music. Suddenly the tenor rushes from his dressing room, arguing with the wigmaker. The prima donna furiously comments on the presence of the comedy troupe and its leading lady, Zerbinetta. In the middle of the confusion, the major-domo returns with an announcement: in order for the fireworks to begin on time, the opera and the comedy are to be performed simultaneously.
At first, the composer refuses to discuss any changes to his work, but when the music master points out that his pay is dependent on accepting the situation, he concedes. The music master persuades the despairing composer to abridge the opera’s score, while the two lead singers independently urge him to change the other’s part. Meanwhile, Zerbinetta gives her troupe a briefing on the opera’s plot. Ariadne, they are told, has been abandoned by her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos, where she now waits for death. Zerbinetta, however, claims that all Ariadne really needs is a new lover. When the composer vehemently disagrees, Zerbinetta begins to flirt with him. Suddenly the young man finds new hope. Filled with love and enthusiasm for his work, he passionately declares music the greatest of all the arts (“Musik ist eine heilige Kunst,” Music is a sacred art). When he catches sight of the comedians, ready to go on stage, he realizes with horror what is about to happen. He blames the music master for the artistic debacle and departs in a huff.
The Opera: The curtain rises on the opera itself.
Ariadne has been abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. She is alone in front of her cave. Three nymphs look on and lament her fate. Watching from the wings, the comedians are doubtful whether they will be able to cheer her up. Ariadne recalls her love for Theseus, and then imagines herself as a chaste girl, awaiting death. The Harlequin enters and tries to divert her with a song (“Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen,” Love, hate, hope, and trepidation), but Ariadne ignores him. As if in a trance, she resolves to await death. When the comedians’ efforts continue to fail, Zerbinetta finally addresses Ariadne directly (“Grossmächtige Prinzessin,” Great mighty Princess), explaining to her the human need to change an old love for a new. Insulted, Ariadne leaves. After Zerbinetta has finished her speech, her colleagues leap back onto the scene, competing for her attention. Zerbinetta gives in to the Harlequin’s comic protestations of love and the comedians exit.
The nymphs announce the approach of a ship: it carries the young god Bacchus, who has escaped the enchantress Circe. Bacchus’s voice is heard in the distance (“Circe, kannst du mich hören?” Circe, can you hear me?), and Ariadne prepares to greet her visitor, whom she thinks must be death at last. When he appears, she mistakes him for Theseus returning for her, but he majestically proclaims his godhood. Entranced by her beauty, Bacchus tells her he would sooner see the stars vanish than leave her. Reconciled to a new existence, Ariadne joins Bacchus as they ascend to the heavens. Zerbinetta sneaks in to have the last word: “When a new god comes along, we’re dumbstruck.”
Synopsis by Christina Kucan, PR/Communications Specialist, and Hannah Guinn, Director of Fort Worth Opera Studio/Education