Opera in one act and a prologue, to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, by Richard Strauss Performed in German
A wealthy sponsor wants to entertain his guests with a special event on the occasion of an art museum opening. The opera »Ariadne auf Naxos«, which was written by a young composer for the occasion, will be premiered in the newly opened museum for contemporary art. In order to make the high-brow work palatable for the public, a comedy troupe has also been invited to provide cheer by presenting the comedy »Zerbinetta and her four lovers«. The music teacher protests in vain against the presentation of a common street show and fireworks display directly following the premiere of his student´s serious work. The situation comes to a climax when the Major Domo tells the arriving artist troupes that the patron has arranged for the simultaneous performance of both works. The opera personnel is shocked. Only Zerbinetta and the dancing master immediately see the chance to use their improvisations to outshine the opera and win the public over to their side. The unhappy composer must face the question of whether he wants to see his work presented in Fragments or not premiered at all. To the anger of Harlequin, Zerbinetta takes on the young genius and allows him »to see everything through other eyes« for a moment. Yet as it becomes clear to the composer how his opera will be played out, his protests come too late. The performance has already begun.
The opera takes place on a deserted island where Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus, surrenders to her emotional agony. Dryade, Najade and Echo are unable to console her. Ariadne wants to die. The comedians are also powerless. Their cheerful songs cannot pull Ariadne out of her sorrow. Then Zerbinetta decides to talk with Ariadne »woman to woman«. The two women, however, are so different that they have nothing in common. Zerbinetta performs her cheerful act with the comedians and flirts with the composer. The scene changes and the nymphs announce the imminent arrival of Bacchus. He has barely escaped from the magician Circe, who seduces men and turns them into pigs, and he is fearful of meeting another dangerous seductress. Ariadne believes that she recognises in Bacchus the messenger of death. Unknowingly they give themselves up to the intoxication of metamorphosis. The young composer had represented the end of his first opera as a transfiguration. Yet his music freezes into resounding forms. Through Zerbinetta has he realized what life really can be.