Petal 006

Gualtiero Dazzi & Francisco Serrano:

La Rosa de Ariadna

Susanna Moncayo, Ian Honeyman

Nouvel Ensemble Vocal, cond. Henri Farge

Ensemble Itinéraire, cond. Aldo Brizzi


La Rosa de Ariadna

Opera in three movements and an epilogue. The flow of time is real and corresponds to the evolution —full, not elliptical— of the characters. The action takes place in Crete, inside the Labyrinth, the night before Theseus disembarks.

1/ The Minotaur, in its lair, muses on its existence. In the distance the voice of Ariadne is heard, her presence gradually making itself felt. The interventions of the Chorus, during which the passage of time is suspended, provide information on both the events and the meaning underlying the situation. Ariadne enters the Labyrinth.

2/ A powerful force of attraction drives Ariadne toward her brother; the girl spins a lengthy enchantment around the monster. The Minotaur is trapped by a rising passion. Time stops. At the moment of their joining, the singers' voices blend together.

3/ Outside the Labyrinth, a clamor —then taken up by the Chorus— announces the hero's arrival. Ariadne backs away and returns toward the entrance, abandoning the monster. Having perceived his destiny and confronted by the emptiness caused by Ariadne's departure, the Minotaur loses interest in fighting and now merely awaits death.

4/ Epilogue. And yet there is still one glimmer of hope left in the Minotaur's last night.


About Ariadne’s Rose

The morning sun glistened on the bronze sword. No trace of blood remained.

« Can you believe it, Ariadne? » said Theseus,

« The Minotaur barely defended itself. »

Jorge Luis Borges

The myth

An emblem of man's bestiality and a symbol of his indomitable instinctive strengths, found in numerous sculptures, pictures, and literature since the dawn of the myth, the Minotaur —that atrocious combination of bull and man, as Ovid described it— has seldom been given a voice. Of course, countless authors, both ancient and modern, have told of it and its story, but except for a handful of texts the Minotaur has been a silenced presence. We know from legend that bright Theseus, the Athenian hero, bearing the thread given to him by his beloved Ariadne, penetrated the Labyrinth and put the Minotaur to death —but not much more. There is nothing to stop us from pondering what could have happened inside there before the hero's arrival. Ariadne's Rose tells how, on the night before the Minotaur's sacrificial victims —Theseus among them— reached Crete, Ariadne, Priestess of the Labyrinth and sister of the Minotaur, drawn in by the monster's gravity, crosses the threshold to find in the darkness the meaning of her creed and the object of her veneration; that meaning is revealed to her as she penetrates ever more deeply. However, when she finds the Minotaur (an encounter that would be later consummated with Dionysus, another variation on the horned god), she hears the cries announcing the arrival of Theseus; she hesitates and, as if awakening from a dream, as if falling into another, leaves the terrible palace. The Minotaur, having glimpsed love and now abandoned, loses itself in its own Labyrinth, which is Ariadne. Without her, without what it has perceived through her, it loses the will to live. The Minotaur is defeated not by boredom —as Borges suggests in his story The House of Asterion, the last part of which appears as the epigraph to these notes— but by love. There was no combat. Theseus does no more than liberate the Minotaur from its suffering.

The context

Perhaps it would be useful to remember that relations between bull and maid lie at the very foundation of European culture. The legend of Europa, the King of Phoenicia's beautiful daughter, kidnapped by Zeus in the form of a white bull and led to the island of Crete, where she gave birth to Minos and Rhadamanthus, underscores the Mediterranean roots of the people who inhabited the Old Continent at the dawn of history. Some versions of the myth even make Europa the mother of the Minotaur instead of its grandmother. In any event, it can be clearly seen that for the ancients, the link between the power of the sun, symbolized by the bull, and woman, the emblem of the moon, represented much more than a simple reference to their origins.

And yet, even taking all that into consideration, why present an opera about the Labyrinth and the imprisoned Minotaur? Can such an (apparently) remote and peripheral concept motivate contemporary interest? The story of the Labyrinth dates back millennia. For centuries man has been fascinated by the archetypal construct of the topos, which is easy to enter but almost impossible to leave. It is a primordial idea. Each generation has pondered it with the same attention and intensity. There is something both cosmic and human in this depiction of the tortuous path that never ceases to grow or mutate. Thus, the legend of the fetid palace and its biform occupant has survived intact for more than three thousand years.

Mythologists maintain that myths reflect man's primordial shudder in the face of the unknown. They are a kind of ancestral memory of mankind. The Labyrinth is a visual metaphor that speaks of both the brain and the bowels, of both our reason and our emotions: of our depths. And it would be superfluous to insist that psychoanalysis has revealed the disguised terror man feels towards his inner abyss. The incarnation of that disguise is the Minotaur.

The work

The poem that makes up the libretto attempts to explore different syntactic and —above all— prosodic possibilities of language, so that the rhythm and the music of the words act, as it were, as both support and counterpoint for the harmony of the sounds. But although the text is structured according to the « dramatic path », it does not yield to the stereotypes of the conventional libretto and never really assumes a direct theatricality; thus, the composer has had to create what he calls « little internal dramas », simultaneities to simulate dialog, periods of acceleration or rdeceleration of the action —not betraying the poem, but rather striving to underscore its lyrical intensity. The voices generally sing along fluid melodic lines, without great harmonic changes, with a treatment that demands a linear timbre, without the operatic vibrato of the « bel canto » type but rather with its own sonorities. For Gualtiero Dazzi, the doomed encounter between Ariadne and the Minotaur is, above all, a possibility for the meeting of two voices, each possessing a dual musical nature which serves as a metaphor for their dual quality —man/woman rather than man/bull— and which makes them appear as the two facets, night and day, of a single being. Thus, the Minotaur is both baritone and countertenor, while Ariadne is a contralto with a darker timbre.

At the orchestral level, the two characters are depicted in very different ways. Initially, the Minotaur appears to be surrounded by a slow counterpoint led by the wind and string sections and almost without percussion, while Ariadne is defined by an essentially percussive texture that is highly articulated in its rhythm. As these two tempos draw closer until they almost combine, the Minotaur, in its excitement, sings countertenor and Ariadne joins in with the same register. Their separation is similarly translated by the orchestra: the Minotaur returns to the immobility of the initial texture, while Ariadne withdraws to the sound of a decreasing number of instruments until she is left alone with a single cello.

The different levels that provide the structure of the orchestral texture are thus linked to the work's dramatic development; both characters are depicted by a tempo at the start and the end and the story is nothing more than the reciprocal contamination of their tempos, followed by their fusion and ultimate separation.

In order to make both the linking and superimposition of these movements apparent, Dazzi proposes a degree of unity in that everything is constructed on a single element of harmony that evolves with relative slowness. Thus, in spite of the formal complexity contained in the interaction of the different tempos, the inner time of each of its different connotations (timbre, register, speed, rhythmic articulation) is immediately recognizable. The orchestra is a set of seventeen elements and the choir is a vocal group of twelve singers, all of whom are soloists.

The work sets itself the task of not disassociating the two phases of the composition: first, the score, which is abstract, and, second, its perception, what is heard: Ariadne in the aural labyrinth. Each moment of the musical score takes perception into account. In this way the general development of the work points to the inner time of every member of the audience. In La Rosa de Ariadna, the Labyrinth has become a thing of sound, of music.

The characters

Ariadne is a complex person. Her name means « most holy »; she is the daughter of the moon, the bearer of light. Cabalistically she represents the soul. She is aracne, the spider than weaves and unweaves our bodies, the warp and weft of life. She is the anima. Nietzsche, in whose philosophy the Cretan princess plays a key role, said that Ariadne was the repeated affirmation, the yes responding to the yes. In this opera, as in the myth, by siding with Theseus Ariadne denies herself life, represented by the bestiality of the Minotaur. Then, as we know, she joins with Dionysus. (A clinical case, one of health and curing, as Gilles Deleuze points out.)

In turn, the Minotaur is the condensed reality of a dual symbol: a monster who at the same time is a prince: born of the queen, it has the head of a bull but the body of a man, the heart of a man, the sex of a man. (Borges reminds us that Dante depicted it the other way around: a bull's body and a man's head, because neither Ovid or Virgil offer a precise description.) It thus has an animal's head, but the innards of a human. In spite of what we have been told, the Minotaur represents not only the indomitable brute force of instinct, but also something more than that: it is the image of an essentially dual being. Its bellows sing praises to the things of this world.

Since the Greeks, western tradition has striven to emphasize the coating of reason and restrictions that cover the deepest layers of the human soul. In this sense, we are all Theseus and the Minotaur at the same time. By killing the bull, says Nietzsche, who studied this myth in detail, Theseus denies life, reducing it to reactive forms -- the triumph of reason and of the organization of man, who is subject to patriarchal gods, over the strength of will and vitality of the instincts.

According to the myth, after seducing Ariadne, Theseus abandons her on the island of Naxos. And it is there that, by means of a kind of ontological compensation, she is taken by Dionysus, a sublimated manifestation of pure and multiple strength, of the affirming will made flesh in the bull. All La Rosa de Ariadna has done is to slightly alter the order in which the events symbolically occur —in other words, the love story between Ariadne, the symbol of the soul, and the bull-god, which stands for the vital, fertilizing forces of nature.

Perhaps for this reason it can be claimed, as Umberto Eco has, that among the many tales devised by man, the story of the labyrinth is « a dense form of future ».

                                                                        Francisco Serrano