Lyric’s Latest Opera Celebrates Women with Soaring Voices

Three dazzling sopranos electrify the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne Auf Naxos.”


Composed in 1912, “Ariadne” is equal parts high-minded love story and raucous, rustic comedy. It begins with a conflict between a high-strung classical composer and a group of commedia dell’ arte players, both engaged as entertainment at the home of a 17th century Viennese aristocrat.

English mezzo Alice Coote is humorous and brilliant in the trouser role of the composer, who passionately laments that his art is not receiving proper respect. Leading the comic crew is the free-spirited Zerbinetta, played by American soprano Anna Christy, who triumphed as Olympia in Lyric’s season opener “The Tales of Hoffmann.”

The host finally decides that both stories will be told at once, and when the curtain next rises we are in antiquity on the Greek isle of Naxos, where Ariadne, sung by Lyric’s Ryan Center alumna Amber Wagner, has been abandoned by her lover. This American-born soprano has the lion’s share of the singing and sing she can, with poise, dignity and a strong, full tone that never wavers.

She is surrounded by sweet-voiced nymphs who try to cheer Ariadne with their beautifully blended harmonies: Naiad, sung by Nili Riemer; Echo, sung by Kiri Deonarine; and Dryad, sung by Jamie Barton.

When the players arrive Zerbinetta, the quintessential girl who can’t say no, tells Ariadne she’ll find a new love soon. (And she does!) Sidekicks are Harlekin, sung by Matthew Worth, Brighella, sung by Rene Barbera, Scaramuccio, sung by James Kryshak, and Truffaldino, sung by Wilbur Pauley, all nimbly mining the physical comedy.

But this opera is a celebration of women, their voices, their love and their flirtations. English director John Cox has the cast easily navigating the beautiful, complex sets by Robert Perdziola.

Lyric’s music director Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra, delivering Strauss’s splendid, ethereal score with special brilliance.

The opera lasts about 2 and a half hours, with plenty of time to catch the 10:35 p.m. trains.

“Ariadne auf Naxos” runs through Dec. 11 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Call 312-332-2244 or visit