Ariadne auf Naxos
Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos takes place in 18th century Vienna.
In the home of the "richest man in Vienna" two performing groups are preparing for their respective productions which are to play immediately following the gentleman’s dinner. One is a group of Opera singers employed to perform a new work based on Greek Mythology entitled "Ariadne auf Naxos." The other is a group of actors in a Commedia dell’Arte Troupe engaged to perform an Italian Comedy. The Major-domo of the manor arrives to announce the line-up of events: the opera will play first, then the comedy, and then fireworks in the garden precisely at nine o’clock. Protests are made by the opera’s Music Master, but the Major-domo is unmoved. The young Composer of the opera becomes outraged when he learns the news, the Tenor shouts insults at the Wig Master, and the opera's Prima Donna complains about performing on the same stage as Zerbinetta, the leading lady of the Commedia Troupe. To add to the tumultuous circumstances, the Major-domo returns to announce that since the dinner is running long, both Opera and Commedia are to be performed simultaneously so that the fireworks display may begin on time.
The performers divide into their camps to plan how to pull off this great feat. The defeated Composer is wary and hesitant to make any changes to his score, but the Music Master encourages him to make the changes - after all, if they do not perform, he will not earn his wages. The Composer agrees and begins to craft changes while the Tenor and the Prima Donna pester him into abridging the others' parts. Zerbinetta and the master of her troupe walk-through the scenario of the opera to discover how and when they will insert their Commedia lazzi (improvised comedic routines). Ariadne has just lost her lover, Theseus, and having no hope left, desires to end her life. According to Zerbinetta’s interpretation, Ariadne simply needs a new lover. This sends the Composer into a rage where he shares his artistic torture with Zerbinetta. By improvising a love scene with him, she calms the Composer and proves her talents as an actress. Intoxicated by his discoveries with this muse of a woman, the Composer comes to a new understanding of his Opera as part of the Sacred Art that is Music. When his adrenaline finally wears off, he immediately regrets that he has agreed to allow his great work of art to share the stage with such low entertainment and blames his Music Master for convincing him to do it.
Ariadne auf Naxos, The Performance
Ariadne—played by the prima donna—mourns the loss of her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos believing that death will be her only comfort. Zerbinetta and her troupe of players observe from the wings and attempt to invade the performance to lift Ariadne’s spirits and then claim the stage for their own performance. With each attempt, Ariadne becomes further entranced by her wish for death, singing that Hermes will take her to the Realm of Death where she will be free from the burdens and sorrows of this world. Finally taking command of the action, Zerbinetta and her troupe of players tell her that the only way to get over love lost is to simply find a new love. Despite Zerbinetta’s great coloratura flair, Ariadne is offended by the advice and leaves the stage to the triumphant Commedia players.
Reclaiming the stage for the Opera, the Nymphs Naiad, Dryad, and Echo announce that a ship is approaching the island. Ariadne believes that Hermes has come to deliver her, but in truth it is the god Bacchus who has escaped the clutches of the seductive sorceress, Circe. At first Ariadne mistakes him for Theseus and then again for Hermes. Bacchus reveals himself as a god and the two fall immediately in love. The God of Wine crowns her as his consort saying he would rather see the stars fall from the sky than lose her love and offers her a place with him forever in the constellations. During this performance where all the players seem truly touched by the gods, the Commedia actors and the Opera singers are moved to collaborate and share the stage. Sensing the common theme from the very beginning, Zerbinetta proclaims her philosophy on love was correct all along.