Opera - Music and More

Home | Lessons | Synopsis | Search | Discussions ] Glossary ] Resources



Ariande auf Naxos

First performed at Stuttgart, October 25, 1912.
After revision, the original version contained a
theatrical play by Moliere which is shrunk down to
the a quick synopsis in the prologue, had its
premiere in Vienna, October 4, 1916.


House of a Viennese nouveau riche.


Musicians, singers, actors, carpenters, and stage
hands are preparing for the first performance of a
serious opera which has been specially
commissioned by the owner of the house to
entertain his guests.
There is consternation when the Major-domo
announces that, after the opera, there will be a
Harlequinade entertainment; moreover the two
shows must not overrun their allotted span of
time,as the fireworks will begin precisely at nine o
clock! Worse is to come, as a little later the
Major-domo returns to inform the two troupes that
his master has changed his mind: now both
entertainments will be played simultaneously, the
serious opera being punctuated by intervals of
dancing from the comedians.
The composer of the serious opera
extemporizes an aria which he intends for the
tenor and languishes at the idea of his
masterpiece being combined with a common
dancing show. He tries to explain to Zerbinetta
that Ariadne prefers death to the embraces of any
man other that her beloved, and proving
unsuccessful in this, he indulges in a duet with
Zerbinetta in which he comes perilously close to
declaring that he loves her. There is some trouble
with both tenor and prima donna, after which the
composer declares his conviction in the power of
music, the most sacred of the arts.


After an interval, the curtain rises on the opera
itself, watched from boxes by the owner of the
house and his guests. The setting, which is seen
only from its reversed side in the Prologue, is now
seen from the front. At one side is a cave in whose
entrance Ariadne can be seen asleep, watched by
Naiad, Dryad and Echo. These creatures express
a certain sympathy with Ariadne's sorrow, to
which, however, they have become accustomed
with the passage of time.
Ariadne speaks as if in a dream. She takes no
notice when the Harlequinade quartet and
Zerbinetta comment on her distress and try to
think of a means to comfort her. Ariadne
welcomes the idea of death. Not even a
determined effort by Harlequin to cure her of her
madness - for he thinks it must surely be that
which is wrong with her - can stop her for long.
Ariadne continues and, at mention of death's
messenger, Hermes, she becomes more urgent.

The four comedians make another attempt to
cheer up the melancholy Ariadne, but their
dancing and singing have not the slightest effect,
even when they are joined by the sprightly
Zerbinetta. Eventually, Zerbinetta bids them leave
her to see what she can do on her own.
Zerbinetta appeals to Ariadne, woman to
woman. Ariadne is not the first to be abandoned
by her lover, and will not be the last. Zerbinetta
expounds her own fickle philosophy, and is quite
unconcerned when Ariadne disappears inside her
cave. Zerbinetta goes into details of her amorous
career: she is pursued by the four comedians,
each of whom seems amorously inclined.
Zerbinetta encourages and eludes them all, until
only Scaramuccio, Brighella, and Truffaldino are
left. Much to their annoyance, Zerbinetta is
immediately heard conversing tenderly with the
Harlequin, whom they had thought safely out of
the way. They rush to see what they can do about
No sooner are they gone than the three
attendant nymphs return to the stage, full of the
sight they have just seen. A youthful god is
coming, Bacchus, fresh from the embraces of
Circe, but eager for a new adventure. They call to
Ariadne, who emerges from the cave in time to
hear Bacchus calling for Circe. The nymphs beg
him to continue singing, and Ariadne hails him as
the longed for messenger of death. In the arms of
Bacchus, Ariadne finds consolation and
Zerbinetta pops in to comment that all has turned
out exactly as she would have expected.