No 1. Recitative: Teseo mio ben
No 2. Aria: Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?
No 3. Recitative: Ma, a chi parlo?
No 4. Aria: Ah! che morir vorrei
The subject of the Cretan Princess Ariadne’s desertion by Theseus on the island of Naxos has attracted composers from Monteverdi to Richard Strauss. In some sources of the myth (and in Strauss’s opera), Bacchus turns up in the nick of time to rescue her from her plight. But in others she dies, half-crazed with grief. And the anonymous text set by Haydn implies such a tragic outcome. Like the orchestrally-accompanied Scena di Berenice Haydn composed in London, Arianna alternates recitative and aria in four distinct sections. First comes a slow, reflective recitative, beginning in E flat but modulating widely, that depicts Ariadne’s voluptuous awakening, the dawn (evoked in a long keyboard crescendo before ‘Già sorge in ciel’) and her mingled languor and impatience for Theseus’s return.
Then in a largo aria in B flat (‘Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?’), opening with a wonderfully sensuous phrase that recalls the Countess’s ‘Dove sono?’ from Figaro, she begs the gods to bring him back to her. Her underlying anxiety, though, becomes increasingly evident in the faltering vocal line, often punctuated by rests, and the music’s harmonic instability, with sudden shifts to the minor mode. The aria breaks off for the second, intensely dramatic recitative (‘Ma, a chi parlo?’), full of sudden changes of tempo and motif: at the opening Ariadne climbs the cliff (duly illustrated by the piano) as the music modulates slowly from C major to A major and back again; then after the numb realization of her abandonment (‘ei qui mi lascia’), she experiences, successively, desperation, indignation and near collapse (expressed in a poignant, ‘tottering’ F minor arioso at ‘Già più non reggo’). The daughter of Minos recovers her regal dignity for one last time in the slightly formal F major opening of the final aria (‘Ah! che morir vorrei’). But her anguish and outrage erupt in the closing F minor presto, with its yearning repetitions of the key phrase ‘Chi tanto amai’ (the words Haydn cited in his letter to Maria Anna von Genzinger). After the singer’s last despairing F minor outburst, the piano postlude culminates in a laconic F major cadence of grim, almost mocking finality.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2002