Arabella Trifecta from Vienna

AustriaAustria R. Strauss, Arabella: Soloists, Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor), Vienna State Opera, 11.9.2012 (JMI)

Coproduction Vienna State Opera and Hamburg State Opera

Direction: Sven-Eric Bechtolf
Sets: Rolf Glittenberg
Costumes: Marianne Glittenberg


Arabella: Camilla Nylund
Mandryka: Tomasz Konieczny
Zdenka: Ileana Tonca
Matteo: Herbert Lippert
Count Waldner: Wolfgang Bankl
Adelaide: Zoryana Kushpler
Elemer: Norbert Ernst
Dominik: Adam Plachetka
Lamoral: Sorin Coliban
Fiakermilli: Daniela Fally
Fortune Teller: Donna Ellen

Picture courtesy Vienna State Opera, © Michael Pöhn

Richard Strauss’ Arabella at the Vienna State Opera has been so fully satisfying, that it sufficed to justify the trip to Vienna. It’s rare enough to experience this particular opera in a production where the conductor is inspired, the orchestra superb, and the protagonist gorgeous. This Arabella got three out of three.

Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s production premiered in 2006 and was later seen in Hamburg. It changes the epoch from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to a Vienna of the 1930s. There are operas where this kind of change does not work very well, and Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier and Arabella are among them, in my experience. The whole plot of Arabella responds to social principles of a 19th century Vienna… a mores that was already well out of date in the 30s.

During the first act the set depicts the room of the Waldner family at Hotel Metropol (none to impressive); the last act taking place in the hotel lobby with two large stairs at the back of the stage is a considerable improvement. Is it even conceivable to have an Arabella without stairs? It’d be like a Tosca without parapets. The Costumes suit the direction’s ideas, and are amusing in the case of Arabella’ suitors in the second act… if less convincing for Zdenka-as-Zdenko. Arabella and especially her mother, Adelaide, were truly elegant on stage.

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R.Strauss, Arabella,
G.Solti / Vienna Philharmonic
L.della Casa, O.Edelmann, I.Malaniuk, H.Gueden, G.London, A.Dermota

Sven-Eric Bechtolf directs his singers well, and pays tribute to the film The Jazz Singer in the second act, and its famous banana-skirted star Josephine Baker. The production is lively and respectful to Hofmannsthal’s magnificent libretto.

Arabella can be a great opera or—all too often, unfortunately—it can be a remarkable bore. It depends a lot on the conductor and the orchestra. In Vienna

Franz Welter-Möst was working the knobs and levers, and he engineered a performance so magnificent, it felt like a privilege to eavesdrop on it. He was much more in his element than in Don Carlo (S&H review here) and here there was not the slightest hint of excess volume from the orchestra. It was all fluid, elegant and impressive as pure musical flow. The orchestra reached unsurpassed levels of quality and certainly it looked as if the musicians in the pit enjoyed the music as much as I did. It was a great night of music.

Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund’s was a very good Arabella. I usually find her convincing on stage, but this time I enjoyed her performance particularly. It’s become rare that I see an Arabella where the announced soprano also ends up the one on stage. Given Nylund’s performance, I’m glad that this time there weren’t any cancellations. Camilla Nyund has the voice and the on-stage style to personify Arabella, and her performance was flawless from start to finish.

Polish baritone Tomasz Konieczny was a compelling Mandryka, particularly in the last act, where he was particularly credible and exciting. The voice—rather a lyrical baritone—is attractive, but he has problems with its projection which means that it doesn’t spread easily through the house of the Staatsoper.

Romanian soprano Ileana Tonca as Zdenka left a very good impression. Her soprano is attractive and well handled, and she is very expressive in her singing. She joined the cast upon cancellation of her compatriot Anita Hartig, who wasn’t, thanks to Mlle. Tonca, missed. Good performances came also from Austrian tenor Herbert Lippert as Matteo (performed with conviction; better than Michael Schade in the last revival) and Wolfgang Bankl as Count Waldner, as good actor an actor as he’s a singer. The same thing goes for Zoryana Kushpler as Adelaide, younger than usual for the character. The added bonus: When Dominik says in the second act that she is more attractive than her daughter, he wasn’t joking.

The three suitors were well covered with Adam Plachetka (Dominik) and Sorin Coliban (Lamoral) and Norbert Ernst (Count Elemer) who did especially well. Daniela Fally proved that she is the reference today as Fiakermilli. She was impressive on stage and she had no problems with those impossible top notes.

José MªIrurzun