This weekend, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance has assembled an opera performance that will be a rollercoaster ride for Ann Arbor audiences. Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” first appeared at the University in 1954. The opera fuses Italian slapstick comedy and Greek mythology, resulting in a dramatic production with highs, lows and unexpected turns that will leave the audience spellbound.

Ariadne auf Naxos

Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.
From $10

“It’s a wonderful German opera; the music is very gorgeous,” said director Kay Castaldo. “We haven’t done a lot of German opera here. I felt that it was time for the students to work with the German language, because they need to learn and experience that.”

Castaldo has been part of multiple productions in esteemed companies worldwide, including Teatro Colón, Florida Grand Opera, L’Opera de Montreal, Cincinnati Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. This is her first year as an MT&D associate professor. “Ariadne auf Naxos” will be Castaldo’s first production as a faculty member.

“Ariadne auf Naxos” ’s first act introduces the audience to the wealthiest man in Vienna, who has organized a lavish dinner to honor his most recent art acquisition. In order to entertain his guests, he recruits an eminent opera company to perform a serious, tragic opera performance in light of the new painting. A song-and-dance show from a capering troupe of comedians is supposed to follow. When time grows tight, the opera and the comedians are informed that they must perform together. The second act allows the audience to see how the opera within an opera takes form.

“This particular opera is the battle of comedy and tragedy. Directors are always looking for the big, dramatic action of the piece,” Castaldo said. “In this case, it’s transformation. We see the comedy transformed; we see the opera transformed. It’s an exciting theatrical event to see because it’s really fun and colorful, but it’s also mystical in terms of the themes that are really important to us.”

“Ariadne auf Naxos” is a vibrant production that colors the stage some of Strauss’s most compelling music. It simultaneously plays with the universal subject of love, money and high art.

“We see ourselves in a certain way in life. We have this clear view of who we might be. We’re defined by our jobs, our social strata and our relationships. We have a very clear definition of who we are,” Castaldo said. “And then, one day, we fall in love and everything around us explodes and we’re transformed. Or one day something really meaningful comes into our lives: a work of art, a book, a painting — art can really save us and expand us so that we can love.

She continued: “This is the big issue here. This is the human condition. We think we have it all organized and we’re delighted when something bigger than us, when something more wonderful than us, comes into our lives and just explodes it.”

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