Parlando: The COC Blog


Ariadne auf Naxos: Concept and Costumes

Ariadne auf Naxos is made up of two very different parts: the Prologue, a story about a group of theatrical performers preparing to put on a play; and then the main event, the play itself (think Pagliacci or Andy Hardyhere's the synopsis if that sounds confusing). This duality means that most of the cast is playing two roles: the character's "backstage" self, and their "onstage" self, each with a different costume. At left, the production's Harlequin costume ties into a long tradition of comic stage performers, but this opera never lets the audience forget that underneath the costume is an actor playing a part. All designs here were created by set and costume designer Dale Ferguson.

In this production of Ariadne auf Naxos, which was first performed in 2004 by Welsh National Opera, the "backstage" part of the opera is set in the present day. For the second part of the opera (the story of Ariadne, with some hastily-added comic relief), director Neil Armfield wanted to create a setting that was "as beautiful and simple as it was possible for our powers to achieve": soft and dreamlike, with ethereal lighting effects. You can see some photos from the 2004 WNO production here

For an example of how this works, let's look at the costumes for the Prima Donna/Ariadne. This character is a famous opera singer slated to play the role of the noble Ariadne, the ancient Greek heroine who falls in love with Theseus, helps him defeat the minotaur, and is later abandoned by him on the island of Naxos. 

Here's her "backstage" costume, as the Prima Donna. She's attempting to be glamourous in a shiny pink dressing gown with feather trim, but looks a bit dishevelled. 


Here's her "onstage" costume as the despairing Ariadne. In her grief, she has torn her simple, white gown and her hair is streaming around her shoulders.


There are three nymphs with Ariadne on the island: Naiad, Dryad, and Echo. When they arrive "backstage" to get ready for their roles, they look like this:  


Later, when they take the stage as the three nymphs, their costumes look more like this: 


The duality of "backstage" versus "onstage" isn't the only duality in Strauss's opera: there is also an uneasy collaboration between the serious, dramatic operatic actors (who have shown up expecting to perform a serious opera based on a Greek myth) and the comic actors (who have shown up expecting to perform their regular commedia dell'arte routine). When the comic performers realize that they will be expected to insert themselves into the serious opera, they need to hastily modify their costumes and their routine to be more appropriate to an island setting. This means that Zerbinetta, one of the comedians, needs three outfits.

Here's Zerbinetta backstage


Here's her commedia dell'arte costume: 


Here's her modified costume: improvised island-wear for beautiful Naxos.

Posted by Cecily Carver / in 2010/2011 / comments (0) / permalink

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



Subscribe to the COC e-mail newsletter.
Contact Tanner
Have a question? Want to share a link? Submit a comment!