Everyone is invited behind the scenes at a 1950s Italian film studio this season as we meet two very different casts about to stage a show in Ariadne auf Naxos.

Here are our top five reasons why we think you won’t want to miss Strauss’ love song to opera.

1. The Other Strauss

While most of us tend to associate the name Strauss with waltzes, Richard Strauss is from a different family entirely and is better known for orchestral works such as ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ (which was used by Stanley Kubrick in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey), and operas such as Salome, Elektra and Das Rosenkavalier.

Ariadne auf Naxos finds him at his most persuasively lyrical. As Jennifer France, the soprano who sings Zerbinetta, explains: “At times, Strauss actually uses the musicians as lots of little soloists which is so clever. Then, when they all play together, the sound that comes out of the pit is overwhelmingly beautiful.”

Richard Strauss in 1917 © Emil Orlík | 1916 vocal score for Ariadne auf Naxos

2. A Peek Backstage

When you go to the opera, you get to see the result of years of planning, weeks of rehearsals and countless hours of preparation, all leading up to the polished performance on opening night.

What Strauss does in Ariadne auf Naxos is to give the audience an insight into what goes on behind the scenes before a show even reaches the stage. As soon as the Prologue starts, we’re thrown into a world of artistic creation as everyone in the room tackles different languages, different views on love and life and different approaches to art – not helped by the funders deciding at the last minute to make a sweeping change to the whole evening’s entertainment!

Jennifer France as Zerbinetta, Dominic Sedgwick as Harlequin and Adrian Dwyer as Brighella © Tom Arber

3. A Celebration of Cinema

Set and costume designer George Souglides has taken his inspiration from the film director Federico Fellini and the famous Cinecittà Studios in Rome. That means that as soon as the curtain goes up, we’re transported to a bustling studio with all the paraphernalia you’d usually see on a film set, including costumes on rails, wigs being primped and all kinds of props. Look out for members of the Chorus of Opera North acting as camera operators and make-up artists!

Keep an eye out too for the nymphs and see if you can spot the similarities between them and Tilda Swinton – an actor who also influenced George’s designs.

Ariadne auf Naxos, GöteborgsOperan (2018). Directed by Rodula Gaitanou © Mats Bäcker

4. A Love of Languages

Real-life opera rehearsals bring together people of all different nationalities. At the start of Ariadne auf Naxos, director Rodula Gaitanou (herself born in Athens, trained in Paris and now resident in London) has decided to use this for dramatic effect. Zerbinetta and her troupe communicate in English, the Composer and Music Master converse in ‘serious’ German, and the Prima Donna and Tenor use Italian as their first language, ensuring they sound particularly diva-ish.

The good news is there are English surtitles throughout, so you’ll be able to keep up with everything that’s going on regardless of the language being used!

Dean Robinson as Music Master and Elizabeth Llewellyn as Prima Donna rehearsing Ariadne auf Naxos © Tom Arber

5. A Theme for Today

Fun and entertaining as Ariadne auf Naxos may be, it also has a serious message at its heart. What it shows us is that even when people’s beliefs seem diametrically opposed, common ground can still be found and each can learn from the other.

Ariadne and Zerbinetta are transformed as the opera progresses, with both adjusting their point of view as they realise theirs might not be the only approach to love and life. As the supposedly high art of opera collides with ‘commedia dell’arte’ or the comedy of the people, Strauss also shows us that the two can easily co-exist and, in fact, enrich each other. Compromise is everything.

Hanna Hipp as Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos rehearsals © Tom Arber

Ariadne auf Naxos opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 18 February. Following the run in Leeds, it tours to Salford Quays, Nottingham and Newcastle, with audio described performances at all venues. Sung in German and English (with a smattering of Italian), it lasts approximately 2 hours 25 minutes with one interval.

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