Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Arabella is the last collaboration between Richard Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and charts the twists and turns of Arabella and her sister, Zdenka, in finding true love. Hofmannsthal’s untimely death meant he never finalised the libretto, leaving many ambiguities in the story that have to be resolved by the Director and singers of each production. Director, Sven-Eric Bechtolf, has created a superbly convincing version of Arabella, starring Emily Magee as the beautiful Arabella and
Tomasz Konieczny as the fateful right man, Mandryka. With the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, under the direction of Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst, this is a truly magnificent production.
(Blu-ray Disc Version)
Arabella – Emily Magee
Zdenka – Genia Kühmeier
Mandryka – Tomasz Konieczny
Matteo – Michael Schade
Count Waldner – Wolfgang Bankl
Adelaide – Zoryana Kushpler
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Martin Schebesta)
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf, stage director
Rolf Glittenberg, set designer
Marianne Glittenberg, costume designer
Recorded live at the Vienna State Opera House on 6 and 9 May 2012
- Cast Gallery
Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Japanese
Running time: 152 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (Blu-ray)
R E V I E W:
R. STRAUSS Arabella • Franz Welser-Möst, cond; Emily Magee (Arabella); Genia Kühmeier (Zdenka); Tomasz Konieczny (Mandryka); Michael Schade (Matteo); Wolfgang Bankl (Count Waldner); Zoryana Kushpler (Adelaide); Daniela Fally (Fiakermilli); Vienna State Opera O & Ch • ELECTRIC PICTURE EPC04BD (Blu-ray: 152:00) Live: Vienna 2012
Arabella is one of Richard Strauss’s more popular works, his last in collaboration with master librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who died before final editing could be completed. Although no literary gem, the story is a quite enjoyable little romantic comedy of the type that has made the movie industry millions of dollars in the past three-quarters century. Girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, complications arise that put girl and boy at odds, complications are cleverly resolved, girl and boy presumably live happily ever after. Arabella is our girl, of course, a lyric soprano debutante, and Strauss provides her with much lovely music, particularly in act III, in one of the composer’s best late-period opera scores. Many fine Straussian sopranos have coveted the role of Arabella, and several have actually recorded it, making the competition, even on video, quite fierce.
The production seen here is from the Vienna State Opera filmed in high definition Blu-ray in June of last year. Stage Director Sven-Eric Bechtole has updated the original picturesque 1860s era Viennese settings to that of Strauss’s own era in the early 20th century with little or no loss of romantic effect. Sets and costumes are quite handsomely appointed and quite traditional, as Vienna audiences seem to prefer, although the hotel drawing room furniture in act I looks suspiciously like generic hotel furniture. The presence of the father’s bed in the middle of the drawing room is one of only a very few directorial missteps, no classy hotel of the period would have placed it there and no aristocrat, as the father is, would tolerate it. It allows for some additional stage business, but detracts from the image of the family as poor, but of the highest breeding. Act II is the Strauss/Hofmannsthal take on a party scene in the style of Die Fledermaus, La bohème, or La Rondine. It does not seem to come off quite as well as those earlier models, the gaity seems a bit forced as troubling plot complications arise. Strauss even tacks on a coloratura showpiece by party mascot Fiakermilli (who otherwise does not appear), surely one of the most difficult (and possibly unnecessary) florid arias in all of opera.
The Arabella du jour here is American soprano Emily Magee, who has spent much of her operatic career in European houses, particularly the Zurich Opera House working with musical director Franz Welser-Möst, the guest conductor on this set. Magee is something of a Strauss specialist, but she is now a bit mature for the role of the young Viennese debutante and her singing, while certainly enjoyable enough, never provides the vocal riches of a Lisa Della Casa, Renée Fleming, or Kiri Te Kanawa, all top past and present proponents of the role. Fleming and Te Kanawa in fact, both appear on competing DVDs. The rest of the cast is comprised of Vienna State Opera regulars, led by the fine bass-baritone of Polish born Tomasz Konieczny as Arabella’s rich Croatian suitor Mandryka, and Austrian soprano Genia Kuhmeier as Zdenka, Arabella’s sister pretending to be a boy (because the family is too poor to bring out two debutantes). Kuhmeier excels in the pseudo-pants role and sings well in the bargain. Canadian tenor Michael Schade brings a competent voice but a bit too much intensity to the role of the lovesick young lieutenant, Matteo. Schade seems more likely to go off in a psychotic rage than to be contemplating suicide over unrequited love. The smaller roles, Arabella’s mom and pop, and her trio of aristocratic suitors are also filled with solid singers by the Viennese house. Special mention must go to songbird soprano Daniela Fally’s jaw-dropping performance of Fiakermilli’s pyrotechnic aria. The Vienna State Opera Orchestra is nearly matchless in the Strauss repertoire and led here quite delightfully by Welser-Möst, a fine Straussian in his own right.
My few reservations aside, this set is a fine representation of the opera that will provide viewers much enjoyment, and with its Hi-Def video and exceptional surround sound, it must rank near the top competitively. Arguably today’s top Strauss soprano, Renée Fleming, provides a superior performance, again with Welser-Möst from Zurich, but she is let down by the wayward Zurich staging and a cast of lesser-lights singing around her. Georg Solti’s 1977 set with Gundula Janowitz is technically showing its age, but Janowitz provides another excellent Arabella and Solti drives the Vienna Philharmonic forces in truly exciting fashion. The Met video, under conductor Christian Thielemann, is very strong musically but Te Kanawa, for all her singing prowess, is sometimes a wooden actress, she is not in the same league as Fleming or Magee in portraying the many nuances of the lead role. Listen to Te Kanawa on CD along with Della Casa, still perhaps the best singing Arabella of all time. Recommended.
FANFARE: Bill White Read less
Works on This Recording
Arabella, Op. 79 by Richard Strauss
Zoryana Kushpler (Mezzo Soprano),
Wolfgang Bankl (Bass),
Genia Kühmeier (Soprano),
Tomasz Konieczny (Bass),
Emily Magee (Soprano),
Michael Schade (Tenor)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Written: 1929-1932; Germany
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