High Expectations Met in New Dresden Arabella

GermanyGermany Strauss: Arabella, Staatskapelle Dresden, Sächsischer Staatsopernchor, Christian Thielemann (conductor), Semperoper, Dresden, 10.11.2014 (JMI)


Arabella: Anja Harteros
Mandryka: Thomas Hampson
Zdenka: Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Matteo: Daniel Behle
Count Waldner: Albert Dohmen
Adelaide: Gabriele Schnaut
Fortune Teller: Jane Henschel
Fiakermilli: Daniela Fally
Count Elemer: Benjamin Bruns
Count Lamoral: Steven Humes
Count Dominik: Derek Welton


New Production in coproduction with the Osterfestspielen Salzburg
Direction: Florentine Klepper
Sets: Martina Segna
Costumes: Anna Sofie Tuma
Lighting: Bernd Purkrabek

It’s not uncommon that the greater our anticipation of an event, the bigger the potential disappointment. Rarely are high expectations fully met. Opera is no exception to this general rule, and certainly most opera lovers have come out of a performance disappointed because their initial hopes were so high. I confess that my expectations were huge for this Arabella. Well, miracles happen and universal rules have exceptions. In short, I was fortunate to attend a sublime performance of Arabella. It consisted of a spectacular musical version, full of subtlety and nuance; a great cast, equal to the best recordings; and a traditional stage production at the service of the libretto.

The staging is by Florentine Klepper, who has directed several works for the Semperoper. In truth, this opera hardly supports any new reading. The sets in Act I, three modules that move laterally, show the hotel rooms of the Waldners. In Acts II and III, we move to the lobby of the hotel, where the Fiakerball takes place. The costumes are traditional, and attractive in Arabella’s case. Probably the greatest merit of this production is precisely its traditionalism. I fear that originality might have produced problems on stage, and it would have been unforgivable with this excellent cast. Probably the best thing was to just let them do it.

As with other Richard Strauss operas, Arabella was premiered in Dresden, and the musicians of the Staatskapelle seem to carry this music in their genes. The conductor was none other than Christian Thielemann, whose artistic height is comparable to that of the great conductors in history. Arabella is a very special opera: the music is so delicate, so intimate, so thrilling, that tricks and superficialities don’t work. Thielemann’s musical direction was perfect, especially in the last two acts. I don’t know what words to use for the performance of the Staatskapelle Dresden, an orchestra second to none when Christian Thielemann is on the podium. As I left the theatre, I thought that it might be a good idea to not attend any future performances of Arabella and just stay with the memory of this one.

The superb cast repeated that of a few months ago in Salzburg, with the replacement of Renée Fleming by Anja Harteros. For some time now, I’ve watched as singers are transformed under Thielemann’s baton, and it happened on this occasion. I’ve often referred to the fact that the importance of an opera house can be seen in its substitutions, and Anja Harteros was amazing. She could not possibly have sung better. If Anna Netrebko is the Tsarina of current sopranos, Anja Harteros is the Kaiserin, and even more so when the Kaiser of conductors is on the podium. If I’m not mistaken, she has not sung Arabella in the last 5 years, which is difficult to believe. I am counting the days until her Marschallin next month in the same house and with the same conductor.

Baritone Thomas Hampson, a luxury as Mandryka, was terrific. Seldom does one have the opportunity to see a performance of Mandryka as compelling as Hampson’s. True, he is not in the best vocal moment of his career, with the top a bit whitish and tight, but he retains all the beauty of his middle range and is a formidable singer and great actor. Besides, he is very intelligent and knows how to hide his weak points.

Young soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller caught my attention in Munich last summer, and here she reconfirmed that she has a great future. She was flawless as Zdenka, with an attractive voice perfectly suited to the role.

Daniel Behle was a remarkable Matteo in every way, offering a bright voice and a good vocal and stage performance.

Albert Dohmen gave life to Count Waldner and did well, but I was somehow disappointed. His interpretation had no comic aspect, and I missed that.

Daniela Fally has  been the reference Fiakermilli in recent years, and again she proved it. A real treat.

Veterans Gabriele Schnaut and Jane Henschel were Adelaide and the Fortune Teller, respectively. They did well, but the voice of Ms. Schnaut is far from what it was.

The three suitors were very well covered by an excellent Benjamin Bruns (Count Elemer), Steven Humes (Count Lamoral) and Derek Welton (Count Dominik).

The Semperoper was sold out many months in advance. The audience was enthusiastic, particularly towards Harteros, Hampson and Thielemann, and gave a genuine standing ovation.


José Mª Irurzun

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