Ariadne auf Naxos is an odd little opera with only one act, but has a prologue that lasts about 30 minutes. It is more or less an opera about opera, and is quite diverting. The juxtaposition of opera seria and opera buffa produced some entertaining effects as well. All together Ariadne pointedly shows the nature of opera to be collaborative. The prologue starts backstage, and the manner of the staging never let one forget that one was watching a performance. This quite reminded me of Bertolt Brecht's theory of drama, especially since I have been reading about his collaboration with Kurt Weill, particularly in the opera Mahagonny.
The staging was done very artfully, and was beautiful. The various pieces of the stage within a stage were nicely painted, and the cloud hung from ropes that Echo sang in was particularly amusing. The costumes were lavish but in subtle colors. The choreography came off very well, Laura Claycomb (Zerbinetta) moved in an especially delightful, lilting manner, and Deborah Voigt (Prima Donna/Ariadne) impressed me with her regal bearing, even turned away from the stage, the way she held her head and back was simply resplendent.
I do wish that they were better at moving the sets more quietly at the San Francisco Opera. It is an opera, sounds are of the utmost importance, one would think. During Bacchus' approach to Naxos, there was a switch of the stage such that the audience was backstage once again, and the clatter that ensued was most indelicate.
As for the singing, most everyone in the production was quite good. The mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke as the composer was surprisingly wonderful en travesti, she played the over-sensitive, melodramatic role well, and her voice was strong. Deborah Voigt is as accomplished as her reputation would have her. Tenor Thomas Moser is not as renowned as Voigt, but I found his voice well-paired with hers. Laura Claycomb, while quite charming, does not have a voice to vie with these others, it is thin, though pretty it was overwhelmed by the orchestra at times, especially in her higher range.
The somewhat sparse and talkative audience seemed far more moved by the text which they read as supertitles than the music. Unfortunate, since Strauss seems to have a good sense of humor. The music in the prologue was at times humorously overblown. I also quite enjoyed the overture to the opera proper, and by some magic the audience was silent for the whole of it. I believe this is because the curtain was intentionally pulled up as they had supernumeraries fuss around with the stage, perhaps to heighten the sense that the audience is watching an opera. This served to prepare the audience and they were all settled down by the time the music started. I believe I prefer Strauss to Puccini. I also like the audience members in standing room better than in the Grand Tier, as they were more respectful of the artists and the people around them.