Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Chat with Brian Garman

Ariadne auf Naxos, with its very distinct “Prologue” and “Opera” portions, is undoubtedly a difficult opera. And, acknowledges conductor Brian Garman, a rather unusual choice for a Young Artists Program. It’s “really ambitious—if not almost completely unheard of—to do in a Young Artists Program,” says Garman, who is also the YAP music director. “But we have these ‘crazy’ ambitious ideas from time to time and Ariadne was one that we were kicking around for awhile.” Garman and Artistic Director Peter Kazaras knew they had a great Composer in Vira Slywotzky and a thrilling Zerbinetta in Megan Hart, plus some talented men who could sing and act the comedian roles “like they’ve been performing together for years.”

“What sealed the deal, though, was Marcy Stonikas,” he says. Once she completed her aria at auditions last December, “Peter Kazaras and I looked at each other at the same time and said, ‘Ariadne?’ After a few days of consideration, we knew it was the right opera at the right time.”

This is Garman’s first time conducting Ariadne, but “it has always been among my very favorite Strauss operas. It has wit and humanity and charm and passion. And that music.... It's visceral and overwhelming—the last half-hour is so beautiful it could make a stone weep.”

As it was originally conceived, the opera Ariadne was performed immediately after an adaptation of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme, written by Ariadne’s librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. But the original production was over six hours long, so Strauss and Hofmannsthal dropped the Molière play and wrote a prologue to set up the drama of what happens in the opera—that the opera company and the troupe of comedians are forced to perform simultaneously—and this revised version is what’s performed today.

“The prologue is essentially a pastiche of tunes from the opera interspersed with lots and lots of accompanied recitative. There are changes of tempo every few bars, and always dictated by what the dramatic moment is, not necessarily by anything musical,” Garman says. “The ‘opera’ itself is very, very difficult also, but it has a certain amount of musical and structural logic that’s sometimes lacking in the prologue.”

The music of the opera, Garman says, is distinctly Strauss. “It has a lot of Strauss's trademarks—many busy thematic lines happening in the orchestra simultaneously, and lots of conversational bits in the prologue. Similarly, the highly romantic music that Ariadne and Bacchus sing to each other is full of Strauss's typical melodic suspensions and horn solos, and is incredibly, almost unbearably, lush. It certainly more than rivals even the most beautiful moments of Rosenkavalier.”

Photo: Brian Garman conducting the Ariadne orchestra © Rozarii Lynch photo; Marcy Stonikas, Jennifer Edwards, Jenni Bank, Vira Slywotzky, Joanna Foote, and members of the Ariadne orchestra © Chris Bennion photo.

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