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Lights, Action, Ariadne!

In a barn in Naxos, New York, a prima donna sings the title role in a new opera seria, Ariadne. Rising from the bales of hay, Ariadne steps to the lip of the stage. With her arms flung wide in ecstasy, she implores Death to come and rescue her from her solitude and heartbreak. She soars up and beyond the the summit of the melody and the tin walls of the barn quake and answer her in delayed harmony. Ariadne lowers her arms, her eyes still transfixed on the sky beyond the rust-red roof.

A flicker of black, the swift wave of a magician’s cloak, and the world transformed by Ariadne’s singing is revealed to be the stage of the Alice Busch Opera Theater. Emergency lights glare down on Christine Goerke, standing center stage in a t-shirt and sneakers, her brow shiny from the July humidity; on stage and in the wings, the singers blink in confusion. In the middle of an important technical rehearsal, the power has gone out!

It’s a curveball right out of the opera being rehearsed, Ariadne in Naxos. In Richard Strauss’s opera, the performers of a dramatic German opera and a burlesque comedy troupe bicker over which group will perform first on the evening’s program. An hour before the guests arrive, the patrons decide that the acts will be performed simultaneously in order to liven up the opera. The artists have no choice but to make the best out of an inconvenient imposition, work together and make art.

The source of the power outage glows less than a mile from the theater: a large tree branch has fallen onto a power line, igniting a small electrical fire that flickers menacingly on the side of Route 80. Undeterred, the electrics crew sets up generators to power dim lighting, sufficient for people to find their way around the theater and wardrobe house.

One problem remains to be solved: during technical rehearsals, a piano is used in the pit in place of the orchestra. The sound has to be projected back onto the stage for the singers via an audio system that requires more power than the generator is able to supply.

Members of the crew set an electric keyboard and makeshift podium downstage left for rehearsal pianist Katherine Kozak and conductor Kathleen Kelly. The cast waits in the house, a menagerie of silhouettes and faces half-covered in shadows. In the center of the house is Glimmerglass’s Artistic & General Director and the production’s stage director Francesca Zambello, ready to guide the cast of Ariadne in Naxos through this detour. The singers playing Zerbinetta and her four Harlequins walk onto stage and find their marks. Maestra Kelly glances over Miss Kozak’s shoulder at the score for a quick reminder and then cues the first chord for Zerbinetta’s monologue. The rehearsal, after all, must go on.

Ariadne in Naxos opens on July 19. Click here for more information.

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