David Bamberger says he's checked around. He's been saying it for half a year without anyone having corrected him. So the director of the Cleveland Institute of Music's Opera Theater is pretty confident in his statement that Richard Strauss' 1916 opera Ariadne Auf Naxos has never been performed in its entirety in Cleveland. Until this year, that is.
It's not for lack of good music. Zerbinetta's aria is one of those virtuosic monuments that sopranos love to climb, as plenty of recordings and YouTube footage attest. But it's hard to find singers who are up to the challenges the opera presents.
"The tenor role, Bacchus, is not long," says Bamberger. "He shows up only at the end. But it lies high. Not that the notes are higher than usual, but they stay up there. Ariadne has long lines, which means she needs a lot of breath. And Zerbinetta sings high and fast and a lot. To make an athletic analogy, it's like they need to be both long-distance runners and sprinters."
But the stars have aligned: Among the voice students at CIM, there is enough depth to allow him to produce an opera he never took on in the 28 years he directed the Cleveland Opera. It's the story of a party in the home of the "richest man in Vienna" who decides that two the entertainments he's planned — one serious, the other a burlesque — will take place simultaneously. The result is clowns attempting to cheer Ariadne in her island banishment, and Ariadne — as she longs for death — falling in love with Bacchus instead.
"The real nexus is the two views of love," says Bamberger. "Ariadne is waiting for death, having had one guy walk out on her. Zerbinetta's view is if you don't have one guy, you just get another."