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date: 28 March 2020

Ariadne auf Naxos(i)locked

  • Thomas Bauman

Extract

(‘Ariadne on Naxos’). Duodrama (melodrama for two principal characters) in one act by Georg Benda (see Benda family (opera) §(1)) to a text by Brandes, Johann Christian after Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg’s cantata of the same name; Gotha, Schloss Friedenstein, 27 January 1775.

Ariadne (spoken role), having fled from Crete with Theseus (spoken role), awakens on the desolate island of Naxos to learn that he has abandoned her. Feelings of disbelief, anger, grief and love swirl in her mind along with tender memories. A storm mounts and at its height she throws herself from a cliff into the sea.

In 1773 Brandes had given his text, written for his wife Charlotte, to Anton Schweitzer, whose setting remained incomplete; he gave the text to Benda in late 1774. The première marked the first use of historical costuming on the German stage (Duke Ernst II chose Charlotte’s flowing robe). Benda’s score, which at a stroke defined the German melodrama, swept triumphantly through Germany, and to France and Italy; its musical language, derived from obbligato recitative, includes much text painting, but there is also a firm consciousness of overall design. After Theseus’s weak opening scene the music builds impressively to the catastrophe, where Ariadne speaks over, rather than between, the orchestra’s utterances....

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