Voice of Ariadne
(1972-73) chamber opera in three acts
8 singers; recorded voice on tape; (Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Contralto, 2 Tenors, Baritone, Bass-baritone, Bass)
1(pic).11(bcl).1(cbn)/1000/perc/pf(chbr org).hp/str (22.214.171.124.1); tp
Libretto by Amalia Elguera based on Henry James's The Last of the Valerii
Tape in collaboration with Richard Rodney Bennett
Commissioned by the Royal Opera House with assistance from the Gulbenkian Foundation
Premiere: 11 June
1974, Aldeburgh Festival
English Opera Group
conducted by the composer
Colin Graham, director
U.S. Premiere: 30 September
New York City Opera
conducted by the composer
Publisher: Novello & Co Ltd
A composer needs not only technique and imagination and a special, very uncommon dramatic understanding but also a large spoonful of luck to write an opera that comes off unequivocally onstage. Most composers misfire; Thea Musgrave in her third opera...has miraculously succeeded. The Voice of Ariadne is a delight to listen to and a successful piece of theatre; more than that, it is a music-drama that keeps one thinking about human ideals and the pursuit of happiness.
William Mann, The Times (London)
...in sum, The Voice of Ariadne is an uncommonly enjoyable new opera...filled with beautiful sounds. They are also expressive, eloquent sounds. Another thing to note is that the piece is very well written for singers, with a rightness in matching of emotional pitch to actual tessitura, a sense of where in the voice to find a particular shade of feeling, that seems almost instinctive a mark of a born opera composer.
Andrew Porter, The Financial Times
...is a potential classic. Among other virtues, it requires no chorus and can be performed by a chamber orchestra as small as 13 players. Since the economics of opera are parlous, that alone should ensure the work a long life. More to the point, Ariadne's music has the blush of innocent freshness to it. It floats from atonality to tonality and back with dramatic precision, bringing to life the libretto's strange world and humanizing its perplexed cast of characters.
William Bender, Time Magazine
...Although atonal, it has a rich melodic line that rises and falls eloquently with the cadences and inflections of natural speech, and the pastel orchestral colors were skillfully brought out by Musgrave herself, who conducted.
Hubert Saal, Newsweek
Musgrave has clothed the words in a fine original musical setting. Her style is on the edge of tonality; it allows for beautiful arches of song; it sets the English words with remarkable attention to their shape and tone. The opera is fairly short, and it doesn't waste a gesture...
Alan Rich, New York Magazine
In the garden of the Villa Valeri, on a summer night, old Gualtiero the gardener, and the young manservant Giovanni, wait for their master Count Valerio, his young American wife, the Countess, and their guests. Their exuberant and beautiful mistress has summoned friends to celebrate the unearthing of an ancient statue which has been legendary to generations of the Valeri Counts. The Countess arrives with her guests, who exhibit banal and comic reactions to their surroundings and to one another. When the Count finally appears, the group hears Gualtiero describe the statue's enthralling legend:
Who finds her and who wakes her from her sleep
Shall find the happiness she keepeth in her keep
The guests anticipate the discovery by conjecturing the identity of the goddess whose likeness they will soon view. But the gardeners only uncover an empty pedestal, which does not bear a divine inscription, but the name of a mythical woman, Ariadne. Disappointed, the Countess and her guests leave, and the Count remains alone with the pedestal and to observe it in the moonlight. He is about to join the guests when he hears a distant voice:
It is I who call,
Return and find me.
In the villa, the Countess bids her guests goodnight. She worries about her husband's disappointment. She exits. The Count brooding and impatient, looks up the history of Theseus and Ariadne in his library. He ponders Ariadne's desperation as she waits in vain for Theseus' return. Suddenly the Count hears Ariadne's voice calling out to him.
Some days later, in a secluded spot in a public park, Gualtiero meets the Marchesa Bianca Bianchi, who questions him about a rumoured rift between the Count and the Countess. With the reverence with which the aged regard legend, Gualtiero declares that the Count has fallen in love with Ariadne, whose voice he hears calling him. Bianca, selfishly happy for any estrangement between the Count and Countess, mocks the old man's story. He is shocked by her sacrilege and convinces her to meet him in the garden that evening to witness the Count's transformation. She is deterred from leaving by Baldovino who tells her of his infatuation with Mrs Tracy. Mrs Tracy arrives and turns a deaf ear to his protestations. Then the Countess enters, looking for her husband. Bianca offers advice, but the Countess is instinctively wary of her. As the others leave, a sudden terror seizes the Countess. She sings of her isolation words which could have come from the lips of Ariadne. Shaken she invokes the memory of love that she once shared with her husband.
In an antechamber of the villa, Gualtiero chides the Count that the Gods who govern the secrets of the statue, demand from him a sacrifice "From your own hand, a drop of your noble blood." Then he can elicit their help in finding the elusive Ariadne. Giovanni rushes in to announce that the Countess, absent since early morning, has been found wandering the streets in a daze. Now she enters and begs her husband to give up his fascination with the pedestal. His refusal to do this gives credence to Bianca's claim that the Count is indeed in love with another woman. Her charge inspires his contempt and he exits angrily. Mr Lamb appears at the door, and witnessing her desperation consoles her:
There is a love
That asks for nothing, nothing
Except the loved one's joy.
It slakes its thirst
From the excess
Of the cup when it runneth over.
In advising her to love the Count by allowing him to love where he will, Mr Lamb implies his own secret love for the Countess.
In the garden that evening, Count Valerio invokes the ancient gods, and in an act of sacrifice, draws his own blood. Mr Lamb comes upon the scene, and is appalled by the extreme to which the Count's obsession has carried him. The Count is angered by the intrusion. Bianca then enters to keep her appointment with Gualtiero. Mrs Tracy followed by Baldovino also enter. The Count enraged by this further interruption repulses them all. The confusion is abruptly silenced by a distant voice in the Count's ears the voice of Ariadne and the new voice vie, the former finally fading under the clarity of the latter. As they party describes the images the new voice invokes, they realize they are hearing the Countess. She is calling to Ariadne to find her husband and fulfill his love. The Count sees his wife with new eyes, and realizes he has found his Ariadne. Her selfless devotion inspires a newly awakened love. The others absorbed in their own thoughts drift away and the two lovers sing of the hope and freedom that they have won together.
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