Last night, the Metropolitan Opera revived Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos in the 1993 production by Elijah Moshinsky. It is a delightful production to look at—and a fitting one, too. That is, the production looks like the opera sounds, feels, and is. Ariadne is a busy, talky opera—especially in its prologue. The advent of seatback titles at the Met in 1995 must have made the opera more enjoyable for everybody.

Ariadne comes in a prologue and one act. Our Major-Domo last night was Wolfgang Brendel, the veteran German baritone, who teaches at Indiana University. He was—to borrow from W. S. Gilbert—the very model of an Ariadne Major-Domo. He deployed an assortment of laughs and giggles. Our Music Master was another veteran German baritone: Johannes Martin Kränzle. I have not seen him less than professional in any of his roles.

The Composer? That is a trouser role, and he, or she—what are this character’s pronouns?—was Isabel Leonard, the American mezzo. A proofreader once complained to a writer, who routinely submitted clean copy, “You give me nothing to do.” Leonard gives a critic nothing to do—except praise. In whatever language, in whatever style, she does not put a foot wrong. Last night, she gave a clinic in singing “on the breath.” I thought of what Florence Page Kimball told her student Leontyne Price: “Sing on your interest, not on your principal.”

One more note on Isabel Leonard: though a lyric mezzo—a Mozartean mezzo (who last night was singing Mozartean Strauss)—she can unleash a little power, when she wants to. With no forcing.

In the pit was Marek Janowski, the veteran German conductor (Polish-born). He was an astute manager of affairs. The Met percussion section had plenty to do in the Prologue, and they did it with flair. There was an excellent scampering clarinet. And, later in the evening, the horn section would shine. An unflubbing horn section is a gift.

Singing the role of Zerbinetta was Brenda Rae, an American soprano. As I walked to the opera house, I thought, “No fair comparing with Diana.” In 2005, Diana Damrau, the German soprano, made her Met debut as Zerbinetta. It was a sensational debut. There was pandemonium in the house. Such coloratura singing is rarely heard. So, yes: no fair comparing. And in any event, Brenda Rae was what you want in a Zerbinetta: free, flexible, and fun.

Making his Met debut in the role of Harlekin was an American baritone with a splendid name: Sean Michael Plumb. “Beat that,” as Bill Buckley would say. Wait a minute, I think I can: Ryan Speedo Green, the American bass-baritone, was Truffaldin. Both men performed with aplomb.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that Brandon Jovanovich, the tenor from Billings, Montana, won the Richard Tucker Award? It was way back in 2007. And now Jovanovich is a seasoned tenor, who sang handsomely as Bacchus, opposite Ariadne.

And who was that? Let me tell you a story. In 2019, I went to a Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky) at the Met. I rushed in and didn’t really have time to look at the program. Eventually, the soprano singing Lisa opened her mouth. And I thought, “Holy . . .” There in the dark, I looked in my program: it was Lise Davidsen, a young soprano from Norway, making her Met debut.

Let me tell you another story. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish conductor, made a recording with Davidsen. He later recounted, “The moment Lise sang the first phrase, everybody’s jaw dropped in the orchestra. I have never seen this kind of thing before. I’ve seen lots of things, but this was completely unique. It was like, Can this sound come out of a human? Because it was so full, so rich, so perfect.”

“So full, so rich, so perfect.” I cannot improve on that description. As Ariadne, Lise Davidsen poured out a sound that can scarcely be believed. I wonder whether it was like that for listeners to another Norwegian soprano, Flagstad. Recordings can only tell you so much.

The beauty is the main thing, I suppose. The creaminess, the seamlessness, the lushness. But let me remark on the volume. Sitting there last night, I thought, “Is this the loudest sound I have ever heard in an opera house” (not counting the orchestra—in Das Rheingold, for example)? No. I would cite Stephanie Blythe, the American mezzo. Still . . .

This sound can’t last forever, because nothing does. Michael Jordan didn’t. LeBron James won’t. Hear it while you can. Don’t deprive yourself of this experience.

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