Ariane (Martinů)

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Ariane is a one-act opera by Bohuslav Martinů to a French libretto by the composer drawn from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th acts of the 1943 play by Georges Neveux, Le Voyage de Thésée, (who had supplied the text to the composer's earlier opera Julietta).[1]

Performance history[edit]

Martinů composed Ariane in 1958 whilst working on his final opera, The Greek Passion – he described it in a letter to his family as 'taking a rest' from the larger work. The composition took just over a month. The bravura style of the writing for Ariadne reflects Martinů's admiration of Maria Callas. The opera is in a straightforward lyrical style with deliberate references to the operas of Monteverdi and other early composers.

Grove describes the music as being in a "warm, mainly tonal lyricism", at times "enlivened by neo-Baroque rhythmic patterns".[1]

The first performance took place in 1961 at the Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, as the centre-piece of a triple-bill with Mahagonny by Brecht and Weill and Der Analphabet by Ivo Lhotka-Kalinski, two years after the composer's death.

The Czech premiere took place on 23 October 1962 in Brno alongside Ariadne pieces by Claudio Monteverdi and Jiri Antonin Benda, conducted by Richard Tyn, with Miriam Šupurkovská in the title role. In September that year the opera was broadcast live radio on Czechoslovak Radio Brno, conducted by Frantisek Jilek, with Cecilie Strádalová.

The Russian premiere was in Moscow in March 2016, conducted by Maria Maksimchuk.[2]


Role Voice type Premiere cast[3]
2 March 1961
Conductor: Ljubomir Romansky
Ariane (Ariadne) soprano Annemarie Dölitzsch
Thésée (Theseus) baritone Klaus Kirchner
Minotaur bass Walther Finkelberg
Bouroun Theseus's comrade tenor Willi Kunzmann
Watchman, tenor bass Erich Benke
Old Man bass Theo Strosyk
Five youths of Athens, companions of Theseus tenors and basses Josef Connotte, Otto Heppenheimer,
Eduard Mayer, Günter Reich, Franz Wyzner


The story is a surrealist version of the myth of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur.

In this version of the myth, Minotaur and Theseus looks alike - and Theseus discerns part of his own personality in the monster; by killing it he destroys his love for Ariadne.[1]

Prologue – Sinfonia 1

The Watchman learns of the arrival in Knossos of Thésée and his companions from a passing seagull.

Scene 1

Thésée seeks the Minotaur and encounters Ariane. In an ambiguous conversation they seem to fall in love – but Ariane's love may be in fact for the Minotaur. The Old Man announces that the kings daughter is to be married to a stranger. Ariane reveals that she is the king's daughter and Thésée is the stranger – and asks for his name.

Scene 2

After a second sinfonia, Bouroun is dissatisfied that Thésée's infatuation with Ariane is preventing him from killing the Minotaur. Resolving to do the deed himself, he is killed by the Minotaur (offstage). When the Minotaur appears, he turns out to be Theseus's double, and taunts him – "who dares lift his hand to strike himself a death-blow?". Thésée slays the Minotaur however.

Scene 3

A third sinfonia separates the scenes. Thésée and his companions desert Ariane, whose lyrical lament closes the opera.

The whole opera, including the three miniature sinfonias which introduce and punctuate it, lasts little more than 40 minutes (of which Ariane's lament takes about 9).


  1. ^ a b c Smaczny, Jan. Ariane. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  2. ^ Russian premiere of Bohuslav Martinů´s opera Ariadne in Moscow on March 13 accessed 10 June 2016.
  3. ^ Taken from the theatre programme for 2 March 1961, Städtische Bühnen Gelsenkirchen.