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Discussing the Extraordinary Production of Ariadne auf Naxos with Director of Drama Sven-Eric Bechtolf

12 JUN 2012

published in: Opera

Sven-Eric Bechtolf, Director of Drama (Foto: Luigi Caputo)
All the way at the bottom of the program notice are two names you would not find there normally: “Hofmannsthal” and “Ottonie”. Naturally, the opera is unthinkable without his libretto – but it is equally unthinkable without the intimate relationship between the two. Without their extraordinary friendship. “There was the young widow Ottonie von Degenfeld,” says Bechtolf, “who lost her husband very early in life, at the age of 21 – a loss she felt as a terrible blow. Today we would say that she was deeply depressed.” However, the merry widow had good friends in her grief, and one of her friends’ best friend was Hugo von Hofmannsthal. At the end of 1906, he signed the guest book at the Neubeuern Castle near Rosenheim for the first time. And just afterwards, he does nothing to hide his delight: “She is incredibly nice! Such a lovely, joy-giving creature.” Thus began a friendship that was to endure until the end of Hofmannsthal’s life. “It’s touching to see how he befriended her,” Bechtolf recounts, “and while early on, there may still be a therapeutic impulse there, it turned into an amorous one very quickly. That is how the highly complex love story between the two started.”

During the opera’s prologue, Hofmannsthal has the Composer reflect upon Ariadne: “She gives herself to Death – is no longer there – wiped out – then throws herself into the secret of transformation – is reborn – rises again in his embrace. This is what makes him a god.” Whom? Bacchus? Or Hofmannsthal? With this opera, Bechtolf is convinced, Hofmannsthal wooed Ottonie – and he must have been highly aware of it. Their correspondence, at least during the passionate early years, “is among the strangest, the most obscure, but also the most twisted things I have ever read.”

The world premiere in Stuttgart, conceived as a celebration of all the theatrical arts – opera, drama and ballet – was a disaster. On the 100th anniversary of the world premiere, Sven-Eric Bechtolf takes the great risk anew with his adaptation for Salzburg. “This is the very place where it might work. Of course it is a risk to drop the familiar prologue, but on the other hand, the music Strauss wrote for the original version is also ravishingly beautiful. I think that it behooves the Festival to go back to this version, especially given our relationship with the ideas of the theatrical genius Max Reinhardt.”

Learn more about the background and Bechtolf’s new production of the opera Ariadne auf Naxos at the Salzburg Festival. Peter Arp discussed the stage director’s work on the piece with him.

Further information and tickets for the opera, which has its premiere on July 29, 2012 at the Haus für Mozart, are available here.