United Kingdom Richard Strauss: Arabella, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Philippe Jordan (conductor), Nationaltheater, 14.7.2015 (JMI)
Arabella: Anja Harteros
Mandryka: Thomas J. Mayer
Zdenka: Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Matteo: Joseph Kaiser
Count Waldner: Kurt Rydl
Countess Adelaide: Doris Soffel
Fiakermilli: Eir Inderhaug
Count Elemer: Dean Power
Count Dominik: Andrea Borghini
Count Lamoral: Steven Humes
Fortune Teller: Heike Grötzinger
Direction: Andreas Dresen
Sets: Mathias Fischer-Dieskau
Costumes: Sabine Greunig
Lighting: Michael Bauer
One of the main attractions of the 2015 Munich Opera Festival is this Arabella, a new production featuring Anja Harteros on stage and Philippe Jordan in the pit. The performance fully met my expectations with regard to the protagonist, but the musical direction had to complete with my very vivid memory of Arabella in Dresden last November under a splendid Christian Thielemann.
Andreas Dresen’s staging combines some interesting twists with gratuitous provocation. The action has been moved to more modern times than those indicated by the libretto, probably the 1930s. A revolving stage is dominated by a huge white staircase which is present throughout the entire opera and used to great advantage. In Act I the action takes place under it (the Waldners’ hotel room); the rest of the opera uses both the staircase, with all the space it offers, and the area beneath it. It’s an attractive set and offers many scenic possibilities, apart from the fact that a staircase is inherent to this opera. The costumes are very appealing, especially for Arabella and for the Act II ball, with the male guests in black and the women in red, all in excellent contrast to the white of the stairs.
The stage direction does not go beyond narrating the story. There are some interesting touches, such as the fact that Arabella throws the famous glass of water in Mandryka’s face, to the delight of both of them. The most objectionable aspect of the production is the conversion of the Fiakermilli ball into an orgy. The extras indulge in sexual activity, invited by Fiakermilli herself, and this includes Countess Adelaide (her husband plays cards). Honestly, I think all this adds nothing of interest, but is just pure provocation.
I find it difficult to be totally objective about Philippe Jordan’s musical direction because, as I mentioned, I remember well Christian Thielemann in Dresden a few months ago. Mr. Jordan’s conducting was very careful and sensitive, but it fell below that Dresden performance, and also below what Mr. Jordan offered here in Tristan und Isolde. I also found his tempos too fast: in fact, his reading was at least 21 minutes faster than Mr. Thielemann’s. Once again, he drew an excellent performance from the orchestra.
As in Dresden, Anja Harteros was Arabella, and once again the result was memorable. She is the greatest soprano today in her repertoire: there is no comparison with other sopranos, unless it is done with the greatest from the past. It is not possible to sing a better Arabella than Anja Harteros. She is a unique and irreplaceable.
Baritone Thomas J. Mayer played the part of Mandryka, and his performance was a few steps below his colleague’s. Comparisons may be odious, but it helps to focus on certain details. In Dresden, Thomas Hampson offered an exceptional Mandryka, full of elegance and good taste, although his voice is not at its best. Mr. Mayer falls into the shadows when compared with Mr. Hampson.
As in Dresden, Zdenka was played by soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller. It would be difficult to find a better interpreter for the character, and I found her even more impressive than in the earlier production. This young German soprano has a very bright career ahead of her.
Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser was good in the part of Matteo. He was very convincing on stage, and his voice was pleasing in the middle, although rather tight at the top.
Veteran bass Kurt Rydl maintains a sonorous voice in the middle with clear signs of fatigue, but he moves on stage like fish in water. The same can be said of Doris Soffel, a confident interpreter of Adelaide. Fiakermilli was Norwegian soprano Eir Inderhaug, very comfortable on stage and with a small and easy voice in the stratosphere.
José M. Irurzun