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Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program (YAP) hit it out of the park with its new production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. Seeing/hearing an opera of this power and complexity in a relatively small but perfectly adequate theater (400 seats?) was a special treat.

I've become a big fan of the hugely creative, and sometimes brilliant, Peter Kazaras who runs the YAP and also stage-directed this opera (he also directed the recent Falstaff on Seattle Opera's big stage). Peter's inventive mind (he gives credit to his artists) solves so many problems in a way that not only works, but illuminates. How to fit a 38 piece orchestra in a pit built to hold far less? You don't....you put them on stage with the singers. How do you keep such a performance from turning into a concert staging? You have the orchestra face 90 degrees to the audience and build the set around the orchestra by connecting a high back stage with a low front stage via a staircase. I was particularly struck by Kazaras having the Composer character hang around during the 2nd act when normally the Composer would not be seen. The Composer has nothing to say or sing of course, but having that character there in the wings watching "his" opera being performed as he journeys from paranoid fear of things going wrong to being moved by love and passion invoked by the beauty of the music and by the characters of his own invention was in my book a stroke of brilliance on Kazaras' part. Overall the stage action seemed so married to the music that I swore to myself over and over again that the music simply demanded the pieces of stage business Kazaras creates......(I imagined Kazaras hearing the music on a CD in his living room while dozens of staging ideas flowed directly from the music into his imagination).

The voices in this production were so much beyond what I would expect in a young artists program, I was floored. As the lady sitting behind me said after we all peeled ourselves off the walls: "I thought it would be good, but I didn't expect to be moved!" Perhaps it was hearing such powerful voices in such a small theater, and maybe it was the fun that this cast was so clearly having, but what a wonderful night at the opera.

GO....if you possibly can......GO.

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The ticket link is here, which will bring you to a page from which you can choose a performance. The remaining performances are this Friday at 7:30pm (9 April) and Sunday at 2pm (11 April).

I'm disappointed that I was back East for Passover and missed the first, and will be in Colorado this coming weekend. "Ariadne" isn't my favorite opera, but the staging, about which Peter Kazaras gave us hints during the Q&A that followed the last "Falstaff", sounds superb.

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Yes, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. But of course one has to like the whackiness of the opera, and then for this production this whackiness done even whackier......but done oh so cleverly IMHO.

P.S. I am a hard core Strauss fan, but I didn't realize until now just how goregeous this music is. I've only seen an Ariadne performance once before (Seattle Opera 2004) and I've never heard it on CD or radio. I don't think my ear wasn't really ready 6 years ago, but I guess it is now. My 2004 notes say I liked it a lot, but I don't remember hearing all that beauty packed into so small a space, and all the while surrounded by craziness. It was if Strauss was making fun of the entire world of opera. I particularly enjoyed the mercury quick shifts (from the let's say serious romantic darkness of the Composer to the nutty coloratora of Zebinetta) with snatches of beauty everywhere......like so many hors d'oeuvres.

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